Nationwide Marijuana Business Plan Faces Uphill Climb

A former Microsoft employee unveils a brand of pot called 'Diego Pellicer.'

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Former Microsoft corporate strategy manager Jamen Shively smoked weed for the first time a year and a half ago, but on Thursday he boldly announced his intention to consolidate legal medical and recreational marijuana facilities into the country's first nationwide weed brand. The ambitious plan faces legal hurdles.

Shively announced the formation of Diego Pellicer – named after his hemp-selling great-grandfather – in Seattle alongside former Mexican President Vincente Fox, a conservative politician who now advocates taking the drug trade away from criminal gangs.

"We've created the first risk-mitigated vehicles for investing directly in this business opportunity," Shively said, Reuters reports. The businessman is currently seeking investors.

"Let's go big or go home," Shively told the Seattle Times before the official announcement. "We're going to mint more millionaires than Microsoft with this business."

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Shively said he recently acquired the Northwest Patient Resource Center, which operates two medical marijuana shops in the Seattle, and is working to add one dispensary in Colorado, two in California and two more in Washington state to his building holdings.

Earlier this month Shively told the Puget Sound Business Journal that he first smoked marijuana 18 months ago with a "brilliant" fellow Microsoft employee.

"I tried it and I absolutely loved it. It's like I was having the most amazing creative brainstorms," he said. "It was like living in a whole new dimension. So I started consuming it about once a month, and I started sharing with people the experiences I was having, so I sort of became an amateur evangelist of cannabis."

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed into law recreational marijuana regulations Tuesday. The Colorado rules require prospective shop owners to live in the state for two years before they can apply for a recreational marijuana permit – meaning that Shively will likely be unable to join that market.

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A draft of Washington state's recreational pot rules was publicly released earlier in May. While Shively's plans would seemingly be allowed under the rules, the woman who wrote Initiative 502, which legalized pot in the state, and the paid marijuana consultant advising the state government warned the plans might land Shively in prison.

"Having a national chain of marijuana-based companies is not only explicitly counter to the existing prohibition, but also counter to the government's expressed concern about business growing too large," Initiative 502 author Alison Holcomb told the Seattle Times.

Holcomb referenced a 2011 Justice Department memorandum on medical marijuana, which specifically noted large-scale business plans.

"Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law," said the memo. "Those who engage in transactions involving the proceeds of such activity may also be in violation of federal money laundering statutes and other federal financing laws."

Marijuana consultant Mark Kleiman, who is helping Washington craft regulations, told Reuters, "It's very hard for me to understand why anybody seriously interested in being in the marijuana business, which after all is against the federal law, would so publicly announce his conspiracy to break that law."

Shivley is aware of the potential legal pitfalls. "If [federal agents] want to come talk to me, I'll be delighted to meet with them," he said Thursday. "I'll tell them everything that we're doing and show them all our books."

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Eighteen states – including Colorado and Washington – and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana.

Fox hailed Shively's business plan, which ultimately foresees importing the drug from Mexico. The former Mexican president said, "What a difference it makes to have Jamen here sitting at my side instead of [drug cartel leader] Chapo Guzman."