Marijuana Legalization: Ex-Microsoft Employee Building First National Marijuana Brand

Former Microsoft executive Jamen Shively, who left the company in 2009, is planning to create the first national marijuana brand in the U.S., hoping to capitalize on the increasing legalization of the drug. Marijuana is legal for medical purposes in a third of U.S. states, while both Colorado and Washington have also made it legal for recreational purposes. Shively is acquiring medical marijuana dispensaries in California, Colorado, and Washington and wants to eventually import marijuana from Mexico to sell in the U.S.

While it is unclear exactly how Shively’s plan would work in practice given that marijuana still remains illegal under federal law, his plans highlight the importance of the growing support for legalization of marijuana in the U.S. for those looking to get in early and make some money off the drug legally. 

Shively argues that legalized marijuana is “a giant market in search of a brand” and he hopes that his Seattle-based company, named Diego Pellicer after his grandfather who grew weed, can eventually capture up to 40% of the global marijuana industry. In 2005 a United Nations report on the global marijuana trade estimated its value at $142 million. No wonder Shively wants to get involved.

Shively, who used to be a corporate strategy manager at Microsoft, said at a news conference on Thursday that he has already acquired the rights to the Northwest Patient Resource Center, which sells medical marijuana through two Seattle locations, and is in the process of acquiring more dispensaries in Washington state, Colorado, and California. And Shively has some famous supporters of his plans to create both medical and recreational marijuana brands, with former Mexican President Vicente Fox appearing at the news conference. Although Fox is not involved in Shively’s business, he applauded his plans, saying:

“This historic step today is to be observed and evaluated closely by all of us, because it is a game changer. I applaud this group that has the courage to move ahead. They have the vision, they are clear where they’re going, and I’m sure they’re going to get there.”

Although Shively did not specifically outline how his operation would get around the prospect of federal prosecution, he did say that no money or marijuana would be moved across state lines and gave the following vague statement:

“Neither Diego Pellicer nor our investors are exposed to any significant risk, in terms of criminal risk. In terms of criminal risk, that is vastly mitigated. ... We’re making strategic investments, but we’re making them in such a way that they are not in violation of either federal or state law.”

He also said that he would be “delighted” to speak with federal officials about his plans and would be completely open with them.

Alfred Ryan Nerz, the author of, Marijuanamerica: One Man's Quest to Understand America's Dysfunctional Love Affair with Weed, recently wrote that with the majority of the American public supporting legalization of marijuana and with more and more politicians starting to speak out in favor of doing so, it is only a matter of time before it is legalized across the U.S. And it will happen because the present policy is failing and because of the money that can be made:

“America will legalize marijuana for the same reason it has changed many of its other failed policies after years of hammering away at them: because it's practical. Or more to the point, we will legalize marijuana for the same reason I drove marijuana across the country: because it's profitable.”

So while Shively’s plans are still in their infancy and face obvious legal obstacles, given that it seems to be just a matter of time before marijuana is legalized more widely, both in America and around the world, one day others may be wishing that they had got in early like Shively.