“Yes, we are Big Marijuana,” said former Microsoft CEO Jamen Shively, 45, who announced last Thursday that he plans to open Starbucks like chain cannabis stores in Colorado and Washington State.
Shively told reporters he hopes to raise $100 million in investments, that will create “the most recognized brand in an industry that does not exist yet.”
Shively hopes to open 12 retail stores in both Colorado and Washington State and will ultimately have 100 stores in operation in California when voters go to the polls to legalize cannabis in the golden state in November 2014.
Questioned by reporters about violating federal law, Shively responded by saying “People are saying, ‘You are putting a target on your back,’ but it’s really not a big deal,” he said
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox was also present at the press conference Thursday, lending his support for Shively’s plans. Fox encouraged Obama to allow the states to decide if cannabis legalization is in their best interest and that cannabis legalization will also put a dent in the profits of the drug cartels in Mexico. “Business investment” like Shively’s “will bring a solution to Mexico’s huge crime problem,” Fox told Slate. “Criminals won’t be able to get the money because the money will be in the hands of people like Jamen.”
Slate’s Dominic Holden responded to the press conference by saying this:
By all accounts, Americans are on Shively and Fox’s side. For the first time this year, a majority of Americans (52 percent) said they support legalizing marijuana. Sixty-four percent of Americans think the federal government “should not” enforce marijuana laws in states that have legalized pot, according to a December poll. That figure includes 43 percent of respondents who don’t think pot should be legal—in other words, even if they don’t like laws like Washington’s and Colorado’s, they still think the president should butt out if such laws pass.
Once legalization becomes a reality, support for it will likely continue climbing. Regulating the pot market is the only way to tightly control it. That includes collecting taxes, which states can use to pay for programs voters like (especially Obama voters). Washington state estimates that it will bring in between roughly $250 and $500 million in taxes annually. Of that, nearly 80 percent will fund health programs, including up to $110 million annually earmarked to address substance abuse.
I’m not thrilled by the prospect of smoking the Starbucks of bud, but I hold out hope that the microbrews of pot can also flourish in the emerging state markets. And since large-scale operations have the most to lose, they will be the most accountable. They have the incentive to check ID (keeping pot out of the hands of kids, since sales to people under the age of 21 remain illegal), pay taxes (Shively expects to pay $300 million a year in taxes), and adhere to the letter of the law, establishing a model for the pot industry that will make it safer than the illegal market.
If Obama and Holder try to stand in the way of all this progress, they’ll have nothing to offer except more years of a failed war on drugs. A federal crackdown would offer none of the benefits of legalization. Rather than fight Jamen Shively and the other would-be moguls who will surely follow him, the president and his attorney general should let them do what the White House can’t—beat the black market at its own game.
By Toby Rogers