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Originally published Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 4:58 PM

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Ex-Mexico president praises Wash. pot businessmen

Washington state businessmen who say they're trying to create the first national brand of marijuana received some heartfelt support Thursday from the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.

Associated Press

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SEATTLE —

Washington state businessmen who say they're trying to create the first national brand of marijuana received some heartfelt support Thursday from the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.

Fox appeared at a news conference in Seattle, where he recounted how the war on drugs has ravaged his country and praised the states of Washington and Colorado for voting to legalize the recreational use of marijuana last fall.

At the news conference, former Microsoft manager Jamen Shively discussed his plans to launch a new marijuana brand named for his great-great grandfather, Diego Pellicer. He says his company is joining forces with a Washington state chain of medical marijuana dispensaries run by John Davis, the Northwest Patient Resource Center, as well as dispensaries in Colorado and California.

"This historic step today is to be observed and evaluated closely by all of us, because it is a game changer," Fox said. "I applaud this group that has the courage to move ahead. They have the vision, they are clear where they're going, and I'm sure they're going to get there."

Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive who was Mexico's president from 2000-06, specified that he's not involved in the venture. He appeared at Shively's invitation. The two first met 13 years ago, when a company Shively used to run was opening a computer center in Sinaloa and Fox appeared at the inauguration, Shively said.

Shively described grand visions for his pot brand - hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, tens of millions of customers, more than 1,000 jobs just at Diego Pellicer's Seattle headquarters.

"Yes, we are Big Marijuana," he announced.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last March, the company wrote that it had raised $125,000 of an anticipated $625,000. Shively suggested those were outdated, but did not provide different figures.

Washington and Colorado expect to begin allowing marijuana sales to adults over 21 at state-licensed stores beginning next year, but marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Justice Department has repeatedly said it can continue to prosecute large-scale, privately owned marijuana operations even when they comply with state law.

It isn't clear how Shively's plans for a national marijuana brand might be accomplished without running afoul of federal laws regarding the distribution of an illegal substance or conspiracy to distribute an illegal substance. He and Davis said no money from their business will travel interstate, nor will the marijuana itself, but neither of those factors would necessarily shield them from arrest.

Shively insisted that his deals with the dispensaries are structured in such a way as to minimize any risk of federal prosecution, but neither he nor Davis would explain how. Shively said he had acquired certain "rights" related to the dispensaries, and made the plan sound like a marketing agreement by which the stores, beginning next month, would be re-branded as Diego Pellicer.

"Neither Diego Pellicer nor our investors are exposed to any significant risk, in terms of criminal risk," Shively said. "In terms of criminal risk, that is vastly mitigated. ... We're making strategic investments, but we're making them in such a way that they are not in violation of either federal or state law."

Asked how his plan didn't constitute a federal conspiracy to distribute marijuana, Shively described his operation as "a conspiracy to obey the law."

His securities lawyer, Mike Moyer of the prominent Seattle firm of Dorsey and Whitney LLC, declined to elaborate.

Fox urged the reporters present to maintain a focus on the important issues at hand: the failure of the drug war, the thousands of lives lost, and the better alternative offered by legalization. He noted he'd rather be sitting at a table next to Shively than the notorious cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

"This is a much better option, no doubt," he said.

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Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

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