"We're going to mint more millionaires than Microsoft with this business," Jamen Shively, a former Microsoft corporate strategy manager, told The Seattle Times before holding a Seattle news conference.
At the Thursday news conference Shively, 45, called premium marijuana for responsible adults' social and medicinal use "a giant market in search of a brand."
He said his planned Diego Pellicer Inc. retail chain, selling "cannabis and cannabis-based products," hoped to capture 40 percent of the world's marijuana market.
The 2012 U.N. World Drug Report said 119 million to 224 million people age 15 to 64 use cannabis worldwide. The market value was $142 billion in 2005, the 2005 U.N. World Drug report said.
Sitting at the news conference next to former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Shively said he hoped eventually to import pot legally from Mexico.
Shively told the Times before the news conference he didn't "know how exactly that would be done, but I know it's been done in other industries."
"We welcome this initiative because the cost of the war [on drugs], in the case of Mexico, is becoming unbearable," said Fox, who supports abolishing criminal penalties for marijuana.
"The war has been lost all along and it has been lost again and again. It's time for a new start. It's time for a new vision. That's why I applaud this group," Fox said
"What a difference it makes to have Jamen here sitting at my side instead of Chapo Guzman," Fox quipped later, referring to the nickname of Mexico's top drug kingpin, Joaquin Guzman, who heads the Sinaloa Cartel.
The U.S. Treasury Department says it considers Guzman "the most powerful drug trafficker in the world."
Shively said U.S. federal laws making the use, sale or possession of marijuana illegal were like the "crumbling" Berlin Wall shortly before its fall.
"What remains to be done is to safely and systematically dismantle the wall of prohibition and replace it with a system of laws, international agreements, regulations and standards to ensure a prosperous, and above all else, safe cannabis industry," he said.
Some U.S. states have created exemptions for medical-marijuana use, as well as decriminalized non-medical pot use.
In Colorado and Washington, the sale and possession of marijuana is legal for both medical and non-medical uses after voters approved its legalization in November. Those states expect to start permitting marijuana sales to adults over 21 at state-licensed stores next year.
Shively said he was targeting those two states for his Diego Pellicer chain. He told reporters he was buying a chain of medical marijuana stores in Colorado and already bought the rights to one in Seattle.
Other acquisitions are "in the works, from California to Washington," he said, predicting "the first national brand of retail cannabis," like Starbucks, also based in Seattle, is to coffee.
Alison Holcomb, the leading author of Washington state's legal-marijuana law, told the Times Shively faced a huge obstacle in the federal government's marijuana laws.
"Having a national chain of marijuana-based companies is not only explicitly counter to the existing prohibition, but also counter to the government's expressed concern about business growing too large," said Holcomb, the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington state drug policy director.
She told the newspaper if she were Shively's lawyer, she'd advise him to read the Justice Department's "Cole memorandum," named for Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole.
It "explicitly mentioned a concern with operations involving thousands of plants and millions of dollars" and indicates a federal concern with big pot businesses, she said.
The Diego Pellicer website says, "Everything we do is, and always will be, completely legal."
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