Aspiring Marijuana Mogul, Former President Of Mexico Join Forces In Unlikely Roll-Out Of National Pot Brand

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox joins Jamen Shively for a press conference to announce a national pot brand. (Credit: AP)

A former Microsoft manager who is acquiring chains of medical marijuana dispensaries announced his plans for a major national, and eventually international, brand at a press conference this week. Jamen Shively’s claims of establishing international trade on marijuana might have seemed a pipe dream, if not for the fact that Shively’s special guest was former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Fox blasted United States prohibition as imposing an “unbearable” cost on Mexico. “Too high for Mexico, Latin America and the rest of the world,” he said. “The impact in the economy, on income, on tourism investment, loss of talent, and above all, loss of hope, and 80,000 kids dead in the last six years. All this because our neighbor to the north represents such a gigantic consumer market.”

Shively, who now owns the marijuana brand Diego Pellicer, lamented that the world has turned what Carl Sagan called a plant for “serenity and insight, sensitivity, and fellowship,” into “a tool for violence,” exploited by organized crime.

Both men served, in part, as powerful spokespeople for the harms of prohibition. But woven in with their outrage over the drug war was announcement of a national, and eventually international, marijuana business with plans to acquire several sets of dispensaries that reads like a list of keywords to trigger the most virulent federal crackdown. Shively said:

What remains to be done is to safely and systematically dismantle the wall of prohibition and replace it with a system of laws, international agreements, regulations and standards to ensure a prosperous and above all else, safe cannabis industry. We are moving forward. The states of Washington and Colorado are leading the way.

We have waited long enough for some sort of a “green light” from Washington, D.C. telling us that it is ok to proceed. In fact, the silence from our nation’s capitol has been deafening. We are moving forward with our plans to build a national, and eventually international network of cannabis businesses, spanning the production, processing, distribution and retail of cannabis and cannabis-based products. Our network will span both the medical and the social use cannabis markets. […]

With these acquisitions, along with other acquisitions in the works from California to Washington, we are creating the first national brand of retail cannabis.

The phrases “national,” “international,” along with Shively’s stated intent to “move forward” after having “waited long enough” for the green light are almost designed to elicit the federal government’s wrath, so long as marijuana remains federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. While the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the federal government has the authority to regulate and enforce the marijuana market whether or not it crosses state lines, the purpose of national regulation under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause is to address the interstate flow of these products. And where that flow is open, explicit, and widespread, it is particularly unlikely that federal officials will look the other way, particularly since they have prosecuted medical marijuana businesses for much, much less. Reports on conversations between state officials and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have emphasized that the Department of Justice is most concerned that marijuana produced in states that have legalized it will flow to other states where it is not legal.

The benefit of the two state ballot initiatives on recreational marijuana is that they allow for a measured experiment into heavily regulated legalization as an alternative to the failed War on Drugs. What Shively is proposing takes a premature leap that makes even the drafter of Washington state’s new recreational marijuana law uncomfortable, and is likely to make him a federal target. With the political capital of an exasperated Latin American leader by his side and an intractable national political climate, perhaps that’s what is he gunning for.