SEATTLE — Mark Kleiman is a busy man, so it’s no surprise that the only way to catch up with him is at the airport. He arrived Thursday to have a meeting with the Liquor Control Board in Olympia.
“I prefer Hemperor,” Kleiman said, laughing.
The UCLA professor received the title after Botec, the public policy group he leads, was hired to work with the Liquor Control Board on crafting rules for regulating legal pot in the state.
But Kleiman said he’s anything but a so-called pot czar.
“It’s all good clean fun, as long as people understand that it’s completely bogus,” he said. “Our team is providing facts and analysis to the board.”
Some of that analysis is surprising. Kleiman said he was shocked at how small the medical marijuana business is in the state, and how large the black market is, especially in the production of pot, which is then distributed far beyond the state’s borders.
“Washington’s already a substantial producer and that’s going to change the nature of the struggle between the taxed and regulated market and the untaxed and unregulated market.”
Legal producers and retailers will face a 25 percent tax, but Kleiman believes if they can’t keep the price down, some of the new “pot” businesses may not succeed.
Jamen Shively, a former Microsoft executive, is hoping to succeed on a major scale, and wants to build a national marijuana brand — a sort of Starbucks of marijuana.
Kleiman said that’s the kind of business plan that could land someone in federal prison, because outside of Washington and Colorado, weed is still illegal.
“Everybody that the Liquor Control Board licenses will be getting a license to commit a federal felony, that’s just the way the world is,” Kleiman said. “If they keep their heads down and don’t attract undue attention, they may be able to do that unmolested by the federal government. But a press conference is waving a red flag in front of a bull, and I think the bull is going to respond.”
Kleiman said he hopes the Feds back off when the legal marijuana growing and selling begins, as long as the state works to keep the drug within its borders.
“Given how badly we’re doing at maintaining cannabis prohibition, it’s a reasonable time to experiment with legalization and Washington’s a good place to start.”