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Originally published May 30, 2013 at 9:53 PM | Page modified May 30, 2013 at 11:42 PM

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Big plan for pot business, but few details revealed

Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, praised local entrepreneur Jamen Shively’s vision for a legal pot business reaching across the U.S. and perhaps beyond its borders. But Shively revealed few details about it.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, praised local entrepreneur Jamen Shively’s vision for a legal pot business reaching across the U.S. and perhaps beyond its borders.

But in a Columbia Center news conference Thursday that was long on ambition and short on specifics, Shively seemed to retreat from earlier statements that he wanted to open up legal marijuana trade between Mexico and the United States.

Calling Shively’s plans for a national brand of legal marijuana a “game-changer,” Fox said in Seattle that he‘d much rather sit next to the former Microsoft manager than Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most notorious drug warlord.

“It’s time for a new start, a new vision. That’s why I applaud this group,” said Fox, who heads a think tank operating out of his presidential library and said he is not involved in Shively’s business venture.

Fox said it’s time for his country to debate legalization because it’s being savaged by illegal drug cartels. He noted that South American countries such as Uruguay are proceeding in that direction. “I am here convinced of the need for change and new avenues in a different direction,” Fox said.

Talk about different directions. Who would have guessed a year ago that a 40th-floor conference room in Seattle’s tallest building would be packed with media cameras and microphones for a joint appearance of pot entrepreneurs and a former foreign president?

Shively predicted that in five years the Seattle headquarters of his nascent company, Diego Pellicer, would employ more than 1,000 people.

But Shively offered few details about the deals he said he has made to acquire Washington and Colorado medical-marijuana dispensaries. He also provided virtually no details about investors, amounts they’ve contributed and how those investments would not violate the federal prohibition of marijuana.

Shively’s lawyer said the structure of the investments is confidential. Shively said details of his dispensary deals are private and privileged.

A filing by Shively’s company with the Securities and Exchange Commission in late March showed that he had raised only $125,000 at that point. Shively said much has changed since then and in several weeks he will have raised $10 million.

A U.S. Department of Justice representative in Seattle had no comment on Shively’s plans and referred questions to Washington, D.C. A department spokeswoman there would only say “the department is continuing to review the legalization initiatives passed in Washington and Colorado.”

Flanked by a lawyer, doctor, dispensary owner, military veteran and others, Shively said Washingtonians have waited long enough for a green light from Washington, D.C., to move ahead with the voter-approved law legalizing adult-recreational pot in the state.

Shively said he had bought ownership rights to Northwest Patient Resource Center, a company run by local activist John Davis, which has two dispensaries in Seattle.

Shively said he’s in the process of buying a smaller, but “equally professional” dispensary chain in Colorado.

Davis would be Shively’s point person as his company tries to open shops in other states that allow medical marijuana. Davis said no money or marijuana would cross state borders in the company’s expansion plans. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.

One speaker at the event, Skip Dreps, an Army veteran of the Vietnam era, said he wouldn’t get involved with Shively’s company if it engaged in international pot trade — and that he had been told it would not.

Instead, Dreps said Shively’s goal is to one day open franchises in Mexico for selling pot. But Shively’s company would not be sending American pot across the border nor importing Mexican pot, he said.

Dreps was at the event to advocate for the benefits of marijuana in treating post-traumatic stress and other conditions in veterans.

In his evolving plan, Shively said, Mexican stores would offer local pot products. The idea of pot trade between the two countries is still worth considering, he said, adding that he and Fox intend to pursue it.

Shively estimated the current size of the U.S. marijuana market — for both medical and recreational use — at about $100 billion. He said he expects his company to one day have more than 10 million customers.

His estimate of the national market is more than three times the figure of $30 billion used in a book co-authored by the state’s top pot consultant, Mark Kleiman.

That book, “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know,” also downplays the impact U.S. legalization would have on Mexican drug cartels.

It cites a Rand Institute estimate that Mexican cartels get about 20 percent of their money from exporting marijuana. And it says it’s not clear a 20 percent cut in cartel revenues caused by U.S. legalization would lead to a proportionate drop in violence. Cartel soldiers might be reassigned to equally violent work, according to the book.

After Thursday’s event, Shively planned to hold a symposium on marijuana and cancer this weekend on San Juan Island. His father has prostate cancer.

At the news conference, breast-cancer specialist Michael Osborne spoke of the medical promise of pot, pointing to a recent study in the American Journal of Medicine reporting that pot use could reduce the incidence of diabetes.

“From what it looks like now, the benefits [of using pot] are greater than the risks,” Osborne said.

Shively was asked several times why he isn’t expecting federal prosecutors to clamp down on him for engaging in a criminal conspiracy.

“We are actively engaging in a conspiracy to obey the law,” Shively responded, “and be consistent with policy.”

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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