Did Past Harassment Allegations Finally Catch Up To MPP’s Rob Kampia?

‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

Tuesday morning’s announcement by the Marijuana Policy Project caught many in the cannabis legalization community by surprise. MPP officials said that Rob Kampia, the group’s co-founder and longtime director, would step down from his day-to-day management role and become a kind of emeritus development director.

The timing of Rob Kampia’s leaving was odd. So were the stories about his behavior seven years ago.

The timing—two days before the long Thanksgiving holiday—was odd, to say the least. As was the official explanation.

“Shortly after Election Day, Rob quickly shifted gears in December to start the Michigan 2018 legalization campaign,” MPP board member Troy Dayton said in a media statement. “With the Michigan signature drive now complete, it is the right time to shift Rob’s focus to new and bigger projects.”

Fair enough. But…the completion of a state legalization petition drive is not exactly a career capstone for a leader of Kampia’s stature. This is the guy whose group organized and helped bankroll the world-changing Amendment 64 campaign, which legalized adult-use cannabis in Colorado.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Kampia’s soft departure comes in the midst of America’s public reckoning with sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement that began with the exposure of Harvey Weinstein has now swept up and sidelined the careers of Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Louis C.K., Brett Ratner, Leon Weiseltier, Charlie Rose… I could go on. It’s not too far a leap to wonder whether the MPP board of directors saw the writing on the wall and decided to end Kampia’s tenure before his past behavior ended it for him.

That Writing Isn’t Pretty

A five-second Google search of Kampia and “sexual harassment” turns up major media hits from January 2010, when Amanda Hess, now a staff writer for Slate, wrote a cover story on Kampia for Washington DC’s City Paper. Seven years before Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey exposed Weinstein in the New York Times, Hess chronicled a number of allegations against Kampia in the City Paper.

Hess opened her piece like this:

For 15 years, Rob Kampia has served as executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a nonprofit group dedicated to the reform of marijuana laws. In that capacity, Kampia, 41, has pursued two goals. One is the steady advancement of the organization, which he founded out of his Adams Morgan home in 1995. And the other is cultivating an office environment suited to his sexual appetite. A brief inventory of Kampia’s knack for mixing business with pleasure:

  • In 2008, Kampia dated a 19-year-old MPP intern.
  • “How was the NORML Conference?” a staffer asked Kampia one year. Kampia replied, “I got laid.”
  • At a staff happy hour, Kampia guessed a female employee’s breast size and told her that she would be “hotter with a boob job.” (Kampia denies the conversation occurred).
  • Kampia made it known that a female employee’s dress had “made an impression on him.” Later, he directed her to leave some room in his schedule for “bone-girl,” a woman he was “trying to bone.” He also repeatedly informed her of his intentions to perform a “breast massage” on another woman.
  • At the conclusion of a staff happy hour last August, Kampia escorted a subordinate back to his home. The woman was so upset by what happened next that she refused to return to work at MPP ever again.

An Incident, a Three-Month Leave

Kampia in 2010: Not pretty.

Shortly before the story’s publication, Kampia announced that he was taking a three-month leave of absence to undergo therapy. “I just think I’m hypersexualized,” he told the Washington Post.

That time away was sparked by an incident the previous August that involved a female subordinate. The incident so upset MPP staff members that four resigned immediately and three others left soon after.

The Washington Post columnists Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger reported, in a Jan. 19, 2010, article:

Some staffers described it as a final straw after years of witnessing Kampia’s “predatory behavior” in the office, said former membership director Salem Pearce. “He was known as someone who made crude and inappropriate comments about and to women,” she said. “The number-one perk for Rob about MPP was the access to young women.” Pearce was one of the women who resigned because she was convinced that Kampia and MPP’s board were not going to address the matter. “I realized Rob was more interested in keeping his job than the good of the organization,” she said.

In that same Post column, Kampia said his past behavior was just that: a thing of the past. “I wasn’t nearly careful enough in considering other people’s feelings with my actions and my language,” he told Roberts and Argetsinger. “I’ve also learned that I’m capable of change because, overnight, we changed the culture of MPP.”

A Changed Man

I know nothing about the culture of MPP that emerged after Kampia’s three-month therapy leave. It may well have changed for the better. Kampia may have become a better leader and a better man. I hope he did. (And I’d like to know if that happened. Attempts to reach MPP spokesperson Morgan Fox and board member Troy Dayton late this afternoon were unsuccessful, but I’m interested in engaging them, and Kampia, about this.)

Many in the cannabis industry are waiting for a big #MeToo shoe to drop.

One thing is clear: If the 2010 Post and City Pages articles had come out in November 2017, Rob Kampia would not be enjoying a soft landing as the Marijuana Policy Project’s development director. His career would be going the way of Weinstein, Spacey, Rose, et al.

I truly hope that the luck of timing gave Rob Kampia a second chance that he took and made the most of. The shitty thing is, we can see what Kampia did over the next seven years as he led one of the nation’s most visible legalization groups. The people we can’t see are all the young women who might be leading MPP today, but who left the organization rather than put up with a predatory workplace.

This may be the first of a number of stories to come. Not necessarily about Kampia, but about others in the cannabis space. For the past week, many people in the industry have been waiting for a big shoe to drop, and it may land any day now. Call it what you want—the #MeToo movement, the Weinstein effect, America’s sexual harassment reckoning. It started in Hollywood and politics, but it’s coming to the cannabis industry too.

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