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Ex-Microsoft manager hopes to become pot entrepreneur
Jamen Shively is no one you’d expect to be peddling marijuana. Dressed sharply in a suit and tie, he moves his hands emotively as he discusses his company, Diego Pellicer, which will sell premium grade pot following the passage of Initiative 502 this November.
“We’re bringing marijuana from the back alley bagging — who knows where it came from; who knows what it’s laced with, or what got in there accidentally,” said Shively, “to a premium category like a fine Cognac or Brandy.”
Shively, a former corporate manager at Microsoft who now lives in Bellevue, says the legalization of marijuana last Thursday marks the beginning of a new era in Washington state. Supported by legal advisers and financial managers — among them Alan Valdes of the New York Stock Exchange — Shively hopes to open storefronts across the state, and eventually nation.
“I think the writing is on the wall for the legalization of marijuana,” said Shively, who will market his product for “pleasure and creative pursuits.”
Diego Pellicer hopes to distinguish itself from other future brands with its emphasis on quality and service. Shively says he wants to pair sales with education, encouraging responsible consumption, particularly during the first few years of legalization.
“We’re building relationships with the customers, so we’re not only the source of the product,” he explains, “but also the best information.”
Shively is 44 and says that Diego Pellicer will target a mostly older demographic because of its disposable income, life experience and more leisure time.
“For me it really fits into my life now, in my 40s,” said Shively. “A lot of our customers will be first-time users, or maybe they haven’t used in 30 years.…So we’re educating about the different varieties that exist, and then educating about the safety aspect of it.”
Washington joined Colorado in the decriminalization of marijuana, which allows for the private possession of up to an ounce of weed, among adults 21 and older.
But despite comparisons to the end of prohibition in the 1930s, passage of I-502 is unlike anything before, says Shively.
“What you have for the first time, not just in U.S. history, but in the world history of capitalism, [is] a $100 billion legal market being created virtually overnight, where there does not exist a single established brand.”
Though Shively recognizes the lucrative market for marijuana in Washington state, the biggest victory, he says, lies in the justice achieved under I-502. With 80,000 people behind bars nationally for the possession of marijuana, says Shively, and an average of 800,000 people arrested per year, legalization will end an era of oppressive criminalization. He hopes the industry will diminish the black market for the drug, and address any misconceptions about the use of marijuana.
“I pretty much came to the conclusion that it’s actually a health food...” said Shively. “I would sooner get sicker from drinking too much chai.”
Shively admits he was skeptical at first. He had been doing business with a friend in the cattle industry in Colorado, who for several years had been growing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Those same folks had been eyeing the Washington market. Shively didn’t know much about marijuana at the time, but the more he researched, the more harmless he realized pot was.
“The health benefits are well documented. But for me, the biggest benefit is, if I’m socializing and I consume a small amount of marijuana…it lets my creativity come forth.”
Diego Pellicer is named after Shively’s great grandfather, who was vice governor of the island of Cebu in the Philippines, when it was still a Spanish colony. The largest hemp grower in the world at the time, he supplied hemp rope during the Spanish American War, even inventing a machine to make extracting fibers from the stock more efficient.
“I’m very proud to be able to honor him and his memory by putting his name to the company, and the brand,” said Shively.
Diego Pellicer is operating under Shively’s assumption the federal government will allow for businesses like his. Much remains to be seen about the marijuana industry in Washington.
But Shively can say with confidence, that thanks to legalization: “We’re going to do away with the black market. We’re going to drive it deep underground. I’m very proud of that.”