Jamen Shively quickly became the biggest local name in pot back in May when he announced plans to start a national chain of upscale retail stores at a splashy press conference that featured an appearance from former Mexican president Vicente Fox. Shively’s big money plans—and the possible federal backlash they might provoke-- made national headlines. “Yes we are Big Marijuana,” the loquacious former Microsoft manager proclaimed of the company he founded, Diego Pellicer.
That company is named after Shively’s grandfather, a former hemp farmer in the Phillipines. Yet Shively confirmed today that he is stepping down as CEO.
“I’ve never really wanted to be CEO,” Shively maintained, insisting that he was not forced out by the board of directors, which according to the company website is headed by a Wall Street trader named Alan David Valdes. Shively said he will continue being the “visionary” and “face” of Diego, although his title has yet to be worked out.
Suddenly, though, Shively is a lot more cautious in his remarks to the press. When first contacted a few days ago by SW, Shively said he had to get approval before agreeing to an interview. He declined to say who he needed approval from.
Then, John Davis of the Northwest Patient Resource Center, a medical marijuana dispensary which is working in partnership with Diego, called back, saying he was acting as a press liaison for the company. “Diego’s just working on its messaging,” he explained of the new approval process. He added that the reaction to Shively’s May press conference was “a little wonky.”
Davis did not elaborate on what he meant, but he could be referring to widespread speculation that Shively’s bravado was bait for the feds. While voters’ passage of Initiative 502 legalized recreational marijuana at the state level, nobody knows if a federal crackdown is pending. And here was Shively not only talking about conducting interstate commerce, but doing so in a room filled with cameras and reporters.
“Mr Shively has now painted a target on his shirt-front,” opined state pot czar Mark Kleiman, a consultant for the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with 502 implementation. “Should he actually engage in the business of growing or selling cannabis, or owning businesses that do so, he has a very good chance of a long, all-expense paid vacation at the expense of federal taxpayers,” Kleiman continued in a blog post, which also refferred to “insensate greedheads” in the emerging cannabis industry.
Reached this morning by phone, Shively said he had to check with Davis before talking, but then called back. Asked about the press conference, Shively said he doesn’t know what Davis meant about the “wonky” reaction. “There were so many different reactions,” he said.
Both Shively and Davis said Diego has picked a new CEO, but one whose name can’t be announced for a few months, until the deal is finalized. “He’s the rare person that’s got some experience,” Davis said, elaborating that the new CEO had medical marijuana “retail locations” in Colorado. Diego’s incoming CEO has also headed some “very large” agricultural companies, according to Davis.
Just last month, Shively, acting in his capacity as Diego’s CEO, joined with Fox to put on a symposium in Mexico devoted to pot legalization. “He was sitting at President Fox’s right hand throughout the entire symposium,” recalls former I-502 campaign manager Alison Holcomb, who attended.
Shively’s now working on planning another symposium in Seattle, according to Davis. “It’s not like Jamen’s going away,” Davis said.