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Washington became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But there are a lot of challenges ahead: the state must set up a licensing system for marijuana growers and sellers, the federal government may mount a challenge, the need to set a new limit on amount of marijuana in the bloodstream for safe driving. And medical marijuana is still in the picture.Over the next several months we will be exploring the issue and tracking the impact of I-502.

"Big Marijuana" Rolls Out National Brand Name

Amy Radil

Big marijuana has come to town. That was the message at one of the stranger product launches yet seen in Seattle Thursday. The press conference at Seattle’s Columbia Tower began with a quote from Carl Sagan extolling the serenity bestowed by marijuana. With former Mexican president Vicente Fox at his side, marijuana entrepreneur Jamen Shively told a packed room that marijuana prohibition is like the Berlin Wall and he hopes his new company will help it crumble. 

Shively is launching a company called Diego Pellicer, named after his great-grandfather who grew hemp.  Shively hopes to create a national and, someday, international brand of recreational marijuana.

He told the crowd, “Yes, we are big marijuana.”

Shively said he welcomes a time when marijuana will be legalized, regulated and taxed, as Colorado and Washington are attempting.

Shively said he’s reached an agreement to sell his marijuana brand at a Seattle medical marijuana dispensary, the Northwest Patient Resource Center. The center is run byJohn Davis, a longtime legalization advocate who is executive director of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics. Shively said he’s scouting for similar locations in Colorado and California, and he said at least initially, he’ll be compelled to grow marijuana in each state where he does business.

“You can imagine what the market for bourbon would look like if the bourbon which was consumed in Florida had to be produced in Florida rather than Kentucky,” he said. “So it’s a constraint which is a significant constraint for us operating a national business but it’s a constraint we have to live with for the time being.” Beyond state lines, Shively said he’d like to see  international trade in marijuana someday, something Vicente Fox said he’d also support.

Fox said he hopes marijuana legalization will bring money to someone like Shively rather than to Mexican drug lords. He said, “In Mexico we welcome this initiative because the cost of the war is becoming unbearable.”

Fox said Prohibition has not worked, even when it came to the apple in the garden of Eden. But the exact details were scarce of how this new company will operate, financially and logistically. The company’s lawyer said the strategy for avoiding federal forfeiture laws is “confidential.” 

Washington Representative Roger Goodman was there to support the new venture. He seemed to tap into the euphoric atmosphere.  “The world is watching, America is watching and the federal government better back off!” he said.

But pot entrepreneurs could face hurdles even if federal authorities keep their distance. The Seattle City Council has been looking at bringing marijuana growers into the zoning code. They’re scheduled to vote next week on allowing grow operations of up to 50,000 square feet in the city’s industrial areas.

City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she opposes the rezone. She said marijuana grows could threaten existing industrial uses, and she hasn’t heard a good justification for allowing them in Seattle. 

“It can be grown outside of the city of Seattle and King County. It can be grown east of the mountains where there’s actually more sunshine, it’s going to require less electricity. So I think it makes more sense for us to be thoughtful and not turn our industrial areas into an agricultural area,” she said.

Bagshaw hopes to persuade fellow councilmembers to postpone these changes, especially because state rules are in flux around medical and recreational marijuana. City attorney Pete Holmes is a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization and supported Initiative 502, but he’s hoping entrepreneurs like Shively, as well as people wanting to open Amsterdam-style coffeehouses, will slow down. 

“Entrepreneurs going forward in this transition time are doing so with some risk,” Holmes said. “It’s a complex field that’s going to take some time to work out." He said, "[people like Shively] may be the guys who are pushing the edge of the envelope, it may be a little bit too much too soon."

Meanwhile, Shively said he plans to unveil a medical marijuana brand next month and eventually hire over 1,000 people at the Seattle headquarters of his new company.

Year started with KUOW: 2005