The First National Marijuana Brand, or the First Marijuana Stock Promotion?

It was inevitable that the legalization of cannabis would attract a certain number of insensate greedheads to the industry. And I suppose it was also inevitable that some of them would be terminally stupid and self-destructive.

That’s one explanation of today’s announcement by former Microsoft employee Jamen Shively that he plans to create a national brand of marijuana and is working out the details about how to import it from Mexico.

Mr. Shively has how painted a target on his shirt-front. 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-expenses-paid vacation at the expense of federal taxpayers.

If, when he says that he’s been smoking cannabis for a year and a half, he means that he’s been stoned continuously over that period, it’s barely possible that he doesn’t understand the risks; in that case, he might be sincerely misguided.

But when Shively talks about “minting more millionaires than Microsoft,” I start to wonder whether he’s engaged in a racket much safer than pot-vending: to wit, stock promotion. If you were really going to sell cannabis, you wouldn’t toot your horn. But if you wanted to sell securities, a press conference with Vicente Fox sounds like just the thing.

Since there’s one born every minute, Shively should have no problem raising a bunch of cash from greedy suckers, keeping a large fraction of the stock in his new company in his own hands. There are a number of legal and quasi-legal ways of moving the investors’ cash from the corporate balance sheet to the promoter’s pocket. Or he could just sell some of his stock before the market gets wise. As long as he never actually engages in the cannabis trade, he’s safe from the DEA. The SEC isn’t nearly as aggressive, and the potential sentences are much shorter.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.