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    Is a 'Starbucks of Pot' What Corporate Cannabis Really Needs?

    Written by

    Brian Anderson

    Features Editor

    Sticky icky, coming to a corner store near you? (via)

    Jamen Shively is high on cannabis legalization.

    For someone who only lit up for the first time ever last year, Shively, a former Microsoft manager, sure has mastered all the heady pro-pot talking points. He likens the growth of green legalization, recently spurred by Washington State and Colorado voting to legalize small amounts of cannabis for recreational use, to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. When the Seattle Times asked him if he's at all worried about the Feds shuttering his plans to open up a national chain of pot shops, he waxed Jedi: "Darth," Shively began, cribbing Obi-Wan Kenobi, "if you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." 

    You might be cringing. But there's no way around it: When you're a business person looking to capture a massive slice of a potentially massive pie, you have to talk the talk, winking and nodding as if you've been there all along. You have to sidle up, in this case, to a crowd that is maybe quite wary of some of the ripples starting to emanate from proverbial Big Pot. Medical pot users and stoners alike just loOooOve Star Wars, or something. Right? So does Jamen. He is one of you! And together--you, the affluent Baby Boomer user to whom Shively's proposed chain would expressly target and cater--you'll forever change the arc of history, bong in hand. 

    This is the reality of the "get rich or high trying" phenomenon. But here's the thing. Not only have OG NorCal growers and strain connoisseurs long foretold (however sketchily) the coming age of a Starbucks of Pot, wherein deep-pocketed suits and squares swoop in, wiping out a rich history of mom 'n pop bud shops in the name of shilling mediocre product masked as the Real Deal. (Think Marlboro Greens.) Shively's plan, if he can pull it off (see: unlikely), stands to do far more harm than good to America's No. 1 cash crop. 

    A teaser for High Country, Motherboard's mind-melting journey through the highs and lows of America's tech-enabled cannabis industry premiering June 3

    Why? Shively's brand, called Diego Pellicer, would broker some sort of transnational trade arrangement with Mexico--where, presumably, cultivation of some of the No. 1 Trusted Brand of American Pot would be outsourced. Indeed, Vicente Fox, Mexico's former President, recently appeared next to Shively at a press conference.

    That would surely undercut the tragedy of Mexico's ongoing, bloody war on drugs. A good thing. But Diego Pellicer, according to the company's website, will "offer a premium-quality, hand-crafted product. Think of us as the ‘Davidoff of marijuana,’ with great attention given from genetics to the finished product.” (Davidoff is a high-end tobacco product line.) 

    Good luck with that. Scaling up the grow infrastructure to make that happen is a Herculean task. And sure, Mexico has the history, technology, and skilled workers needed to churn out high-grade cannabis. Too bad Mexican bud, compared to its northern neighbor, sorta sucks. OK, maybe not sucks. But they don't call it Mexican Ditch Weed for nothing.  

    A better approach would be that of vertical integration, which requires dispensaires to grow at least 70 percent of their product. I saw this first hand in and around Denver, where it's giving rise to an industry model not unlike microbrewing. And guess what? It's yielding incredible product on a quick turnaround without compromising on quality. 

    If anything, 'budtender' has a much nicer ring than 'budrista.'

    Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv. @thebanderson