Some would say Jamen Shively has already had a nice career. He spent six years at Microsoft, eventually becoming a corporate manager. Then he went off and founded his own startup, an online marketplace for speciality foods.
But nothing compared to what happened at midnight on Thursday when marijuana officially became legal in Washington.
“This,” said a confident, beaming Shively, “is the most exhilarating moment in my entire career.”
And no, not just because Shively can legally smoke a joint in his own home now. He’s incredibly happy with this moment because it not only is the beginning of the end to marijuana prohibition, but it’s also the beginning of Shively’s new premium pot company, Diego Pellicer.
Shively’s close friends and Diego Pellicer colleagues gathered at an upscale Bellevue home to help count down the seconds to Dec. 6 and celebrate the legalization, which as of Thursday decriminalizes marijuana in Washington state and allows private consumption and up to an ounce of possessed pot by adults 21 or over.
It’s big news for people hoping to tap into the potentially-lucrative marijuana business. Diego Pellicer is the first private company to formally announce plans for getting into the business of retailing recreational marijuana to the public. A premium marijuana storefront is planned to open around Dec. 6, 2013, when Washington state will begin issuing licenses to sell marijuana.
But before I could ask the passionate Shively about his business model and ways he plans on profiting from the new venture, the ex-Microsoftie spent 10 minutes talking about what really makes this moment a big deal to him.
“This is all about getting people out of jail,” he explained. “800,000 people per year are arrested in the U.S. for possession and 80,000 are behind bars for having possessed a plant that is totally natural, non-addictive and completely harmless.
“I imagine myself standing in front of hundreds of thousands of Americans who are no longer being persecuted or arrested or jailed and having their lives, in some cases, destroyed. Those are the people I’m thinking of with every step I take in this direction. It’s something that’s way beyond a business opportunity or money. It’s about expanding freedom in America and ending a very dirty and very wrong type of oppression.”
There is also serious money-making potential in a predicted $50 billion industry. Alan Valdes is the chairman of the Board of Directors and compares the legalization of marijuana to when the prohibition of alcohol ended and businesses took notice.
“This is the start of not just a company, but an industry,” Valdes said. “It’s a unique time in American history. Look at the 1930′s with prohibition. If you look back in history and look at Anheuser-Busch and how other big breweries started out, there was no looking back. I think you’ll see that with marijuana in the U.S. It’s a pretty exciting time for us.”
Some have already coined Shively as the “Bill Gates of Bud,” given that he worked at Microsoft and with Gates himself directly.
“Given that Bill Gates is a genius, visionary, forward-thinking, pioneer in an industry which is vital to our nation and world, I am honored that folks would make the comparison,” he said.
One of the biggest things Shivley experienced at Microsoft directly applies to Diego Pellicer. He learned about the creation of new industries and new categories — whether it’s premium marijuana or social search — within a particular industry. It’s those that are the “first-movers” that end up grabbing the lion’s share of the market.
“The first mover is the one that defines the category,” he said. “In our case it’s legalized marijuana.”
If they truly are the first-movers, Diego Pellicer gets to define this brand new category of premium marijuana. The company plans to target people that don’t necessarily smoke on a regular basis and those that would prefer top-grade quality herb. Think a Neiman Marcus of marijuana selling strains that are the alcohol equivalent to fine brandy or cognac.
It’s also about educating people who might not know about the effects of marijuana or have perceptions about the drug. Shively knows that his company must take a responsible approach to the industry because of what he calls “misinformation about marijuana.”
“It should be sold in responsible quantities, consumed in moderation and savored like a fine brandy or cigar,” he explained. “The consumers should be educated. That’s part of our business. It’s not just about selling, It’s about educating about proper use and safeguards.”
Shively has already assembled a strong team of what he calls the “dream team” made up of top lawyers and creative talent in Seattle.
“What’s really amazing is that everyone I talk to says that I want to work for you,” Shively said. “They tell me they want to be a part of this and make history with me.”
Shively was on the radio yesterday and you can hear more about his plans here. Check out photos from Thursday’s event below and see the video above for the toast to legalization.
Previously on GeekWire: What legalization means for a medical marijuana startup
Reach staff reporter Taylor Soper at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Taylor_Soper