Tag: marijuana policy project

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.

Leadership Changes at the Marijuana Policy Project

Officials at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), one of the nation’s oldest and most influential legalization advocacy organizations, announced this morning that co-founder Rob Kampia will be moving on from his longtime role as the group’s executive director to assume new duties as director of strategic development.

When Rob Kampia co-founded MPP, cannabis was illegal in all 50 states. He had a big hand in changing that.

Matthew Schweich, who joined MPP as the director of state campaigns in early 2015, will serve as interim executive director as the organization searches for a permanent executive director.

Kampia will continue to serve on the two boards of directors for both MPP and MPP Foundation. The two boards made the decision last week.

Troy Dayton, the ArcView executive who sits on the boards of directors for MPP and MPP Foundation, said in a statement that “this transition has been considered carefully by Rob and the board. We desired to shift Rob’s workload one year ago after his intense work on the Nevada and Arizona campaigns. Shortly after election day, Rob quickly shifted gears in December to start the Michigan 2018 legalization campaign. With the Michigan signature drive now complete, it is the right time to shift Rob’s focus to new and bigger projects.”

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“I’m looking forward to spending more time on Capitol Hill to help craft and pass the best possible legalization law nationally,” Kampia said. “I also want to focus on legalizing marijuana in three of the 10 most populous states – Texas, New York, and Michigan.”

“I’m honored to have served as executive director,” he added. “I’m excited the board chose the person I nominated to serve as interim executive director, and I’m energized to help identify a new executive director to finish the job of ending marijuana prohibition in the U.S.”

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Kampia noted the distance he’s traveled since the group’s founding in the mid-1990s:

“Back in 1993, I moved to D.C. three days after graduating from Penn State for the sole purpose of legalizing marijuana. Fully 19 years later, in 2012, MPP stunned the world by legalizing marijuana in Colorado, and in the four years since then, MPP legalized marijuana in four more states, being responsible overall for five of the eight states’ legalization laws.” 

“When I co-founded MPP in 1995, medical marijuana was illegal in all 50 states, and it had been a decade since a good marijuana bill was even pending in Congress. Since 1995, MPP has passed half of the 29 states’ medical marijuana laws, and MPP was the lead organization that successfully lobbied Congress in 2014 to block the Justice Department from interfering with those state laws, and that amendment from Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is still the law nationwide.”

The boards for MPP and MPP Foundation will begin a national search for a permanent executive director that is expected to last approximately six months.

Maine Postcard: When Advocates Turn On Each Other, It Gets Ugly

You might assume the loudest critics of Maine’s Question 1—the ballot initiative that would legalize the adult use of cannabis—would be the prohibitionists or the police.

Not around here. The latest round of fear-mongering by cops and reefer-madmen hasn’t caught on, probably because most Mainers know cannabis isn’t responsible for the state’s real drug problem: skyrocketing heroin overdoses on the heels of a 20-year prescription pill abuse epidemic.

Cannabis advocates turning on their own: It’s a common theme across a number of states with cannabis ballot measures this fall. In Arizona, legalization supporters who failed to put their own initiative on the ballot are actively working to defeat a rival measure that succeeded, slagging the proposal as “fake legalization.” In Arkansas, two competing medical legalization measures have been battling each other all year. Both face legal challenges from prohibitionists, and if both survive they may split the vote and fall divided. In Maine, the brawling has been carried out with sharp words and bitter social media posts—but so far has managed to stay out of court.

Outside, a group of cannabis advocates protested the cannabis advocacy campaign.

I encountered this strange political dynamic up close  on a recent humid Maine midsummer’s night. The occasion was a party celebrating the opening of the Yes on One campaign headquarters in a nondescript office park on Brighton Avenue, a busy commuter thoroughfare into Portland, the state

Inside, a subdued group of 40 or so campaign supporters and staff mingled in the bare-bones “Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” office.

Outside, a group of cannabis advocates protested the cannabis advocacy campaign. A dozen or so dissenters shouted their fear that adult-use cannabis legalization would result in the elimination of Maine’s medical marijuana program.

As we milled about  the office, a garbled bullhorn was slightly audible through the closed windows.

David Boyer, the “Yes on One” campaign manager and Marijuana Policy Project political director for Maine,  glanced out the second-floor window at the hubbub below. “It’s disappointing they’re out there,” he told me. “They’re not the majority. But they are vocal.”

He gestured outside. “What they are saying is just not true. Question One is a good thing for patients. It’s going to increase competition. Maybe that’s what they’re afraid of.”

What did he predict would be the main effect of Question One on medical cannabis? “The price is going to go down,” he said, “and the quality is going to go up.”

Portland, MainePortland, Maine

Bullhorn diplomacy

As the office warming party continued to buzz, I wandered outside to talk with the counter-counter-prohibitionists. No sooner had I exited the building than a middle-aged elfin man pointed and yelled at me.

“YOU’RE TRYING TO TAKE AWAY MY MEDICAL MARIJUANA! DON’T TAKE AWAY MY MEDICAL MARIJUANA!”

In his hand he held a sign that read, “NO MPP FOR ME.” Part of the argument against Maine’s legalization bid is that it’s backed by the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which in some quarters is considered a slick, corporate out-of-state special interest, even though the actual initiative was authored by the Legalize Maine activist group.

I identified myself as a reporter and tried to get the fella to explain how Question One would impact the medical marijuana program.

‘I READ BETWEEN THE LINES!’ said the man with the bullhorn.

To my left, I recognized a protest organizer who goes by the moniker Genesis Farms (that’s his on-line  name, not his agricultural enterprise) and is known for his social media attacks on  I’ve seen him around. He drives a jacked-up olive green van with “Vote No on One” stenciled on the tinted side windows.

Farms doesn’t like how Question One forces growers and retailers to submit to criminal background check similar to what Mainers who work with children undergo. Plus, he believes the initiative will destroy the medical marijuana program.

“Where in this bill,” I asked, “does it say the medical marijuana program will be eliminated?”

“I READ,” he roared through the bullhorn, “BETWEEN THE LINES.”

 

David Boyer, campaign manager for Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, sits in the organization’s headquarters in Portland, Maine on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. “Question One is a good thing for patients,” he says. (Tristan Spinski for Leafly)

Lumpers vs. Splitters

Back in the Yes on One office, I put those criticisms to David Boyer. He said neither the referendum nor MPP are out to shut down Maine’s medical cannabis industry.

“We want parallel programs,” Boyer insisted. The state’s medical program is needed to take care of patients under 21, for instance, and to prevent potency restrictions on medibles from interfering with the medicine’s efficacy. “Cancer patients,” he said, “need the most they can get in one bite, so [unlike recreational] you can’t have a dosage regulation.”

State Senator Eric Brakey, chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, was the sole elected official attending the party. He echoed Boyer. “Regardless of the outcome of Question One, I don’t see the medical marijuana program going anywhere,” he said. “In talking to the other legislators on the committee where we oversee the medical marijuana program, that’s pretty much been the consensus. The program is here to stay.”

Brakey, a Republican from the Ron Paul wing of the party, views the upcoming vote as a conceptual question more than nuanced lawmaking.

“Should we continue getting government involved in telling adults over the age of 21 if they can use a substance safer than alcohol?” he said. “Or not? That’s what the people are voting on.” Some of the finer details, he said, “will necessarily need to be hashed out in the Legislature as we go forward and try to implement this and make it actually work.”

Citizen activist Hillary Lister at the Maine State House in Augusta. Lister opposes Question One because its licensing limit “invites corruption,” she says. (Tristan Spinski for Leafly)

Finding a critical voice of reason

Not every dissenter screams  through a bullhorn.

Hillary Lister is one of Maine’s most recognized citizen activists. In 2006, she was infamously  arrested for chaining herself to the state capitol building to protest the building of a construction debris incinerator.

Lister opposes Question One because of its details. She doesn’t like the initiative’s first-year  800,000 square foot canopy cap and its two-tiered licensing system, with 40 percent of the licenses reserved for smaller grows under 3,000 square feet.

“Limited licensing inherently invites corruption,” she told me. “With a limited amount of licenses, you will have pressure from all the different entities that want a license. It artificially becomes a closed market, which I don’t think is a good business model. And will force a lot of people back into illegal growing.” Plus, under current state law, “we’re already far more decriminalized than any other state in the country.”

Lister would rather Maine pursue legalization through legislative action rather than a referendum. She’d prefer a licensing system akin to the state’s medical marijuana caregiver model. “Anyone who pays the fees and is in good standing could have this business,” she said, “instead of whoever has the connections and the funding.”

To spread her “No on One” message, Lister has a series of speaking engagements leading up to the vote. A friend set up a “GoFundMe” account to support her work. About $1500 has been raised, which Lister said will probably go towards yard signs urging a no vote.

A bud of legally grown marijuana is held by a cancer <strong>patient</strong> in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)A bud of legally grown marijuana is held by a cancer patient in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Minutiae or deal-breakers?

The issues bothering Lister and others “are kind of minutiae,” said Alysia Melnick, political director of Yes on One. “The broader issue of whether adult use of marijuana should be legal, that’s really the question,” she said. “The details are things that stakeholders have, and will continue to have, a role in impacting.”

Melnick hopes that Lister remains at the table, despite her opposition. “She’s smart and knows a tremendous amount,” said Melnick, who has worked with Lister many times over the years. “She can carry tremendous value as far as educating policy makers about the best way to craft and implement policies around a number of issues, including this one.”

Melnick witnessed tons of political sausage-making while working as legal counsel and senior policy advisor to House Speaker Mark Eves  for three years. She understands how some in the cannabis community fear lawmakers messing with the legalization measure to detriment of the local marijuana industry.

Medical marijuana patients, she said, shouldn’t worry about losing their rights under legalization. “Maine is a really unique place where constituents have representation by people that really listen to them,” she said. “You only have to make a couple of calls to a Maine legislator to have them really pay attention.”

Melnick speaks from experience. In 2011, the state required patients to register with the DHHS, and ordered doctors to report patient medical conditions. Melnick, then working for the ACLU of Maine, helped lead the fight on behalf of patient privacy and civil liberties. When hundreds of folks from the medical marijuana community flocked to the Statehouse to protest the changes, lawmakers eliminated the patient registration and doctor reports.

“We were able to have some say in changing it back because it was clear the people had voted on one thing and it had been changed dramatically,” she said, remembering the battle. “It’s amazing how much Maine lawmakers know about the medical marijuana program. It’s because people have turned out and shared their stories. I hope the same would hold true if people were potentially being pushed out of this industry that’s going to bring incredible economic opportunities that are desperately needed. This is not going to be a single industrial grower getting a contract. One of the core pieces of Question One is the hope and belief it will bring economic relief to Mainers across the state.”

Melnick believes Maine voters are ready for legalization, especially if they understand the social justice and economic benefits of Question One. “I hope the people come together and pass this,” she said. “Then we can quibble over the details.”

Lead image: AP Photo/Tom Bell