Q&A: America, Meet Your First Ganjapreneur Turned Mayor

“Of course I support legalization,” says the new mayor of the Northern California town of Sebastopol

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Courtesy Robert Jacob / AP
Courtesy Robert Jacob / AP

We are in an era of marijuana milestones. Washington and Colorado are getting ready to open the nation’s first legal, recreational-pot shops. Nearly 60% of Americans support legalizing the drug, an all-time high. And in the quiet Northern California town of Sebastopol (pop. 7,525), America has just gotten its first marijuana businessman turned mayor, elected unanimously by his fellow city-council members earlier this month.

Robert Jacob, 37, worked with homeless youth and HIV-positive communities in San Francisco before moving to Sebastopol and starting the area’s first medical-marijuana dispensary in 2007. The business, Peace in Medicine, now has two locations and 20,000 members. TIME spoke with Jacob about his new job, legalization in California and what politicians can learn from ganjapreneurs like him.

You appear to be the first American mayor who is also running a medical-marijuana business. What do you think the significance of that is?

I don’t believe I became mayor because of my medical-marijuana background. I believe I became mayor because of my ability to work within all communities and with all council members, even when there’s a difference of opinion. So what it signifies is that medical cannabis is no longer your whole identity. Historically, if you were a medical-cannabis advocate, that was your defining factor.

Your achievement quickly became national news. Do you think there’s an insight here about how America views marijuana these days?

In Northern California, medical cannabis is a very important issue to many residents. We’re coming to a point of acceptance where patients no longer live in fear of being who they are, where they are coming out of the shadows.

How bad do you think the stigma has been in the past?

When I entered the Sebastopol community, there were many patients who lived here who were ashamed, who hid in their homes and weren’t comfortable publicly being a medical-cannabis patient. They didn’t want anybody to know.

So how did you get into the medical-marijuana business?

I was working in San Francisco with HIV-positive young people, and there, medical cannabis is at the forefront. But when I moved to Sebastopol and realized there were a lot of people who were uncomfortable being medical-cannabis patients, providers, advocates, I really saw a disenfranchised community. Working with underserved populations has been my life’s work. And I thought it was important to empower that community. So we united behind this vision, which became Peace in Medicine … Sebastopol’s first medical-marijuana dispensary.

It sounds like you approached medical marijuana more as a social endeavor than a business.

Absolutely. Peace in Medicine has always been about bringing people together, about breaking down stereotypes. At the end of the day the dispensary is a nonprofit social organization, and providing medical cannabis to patients is just a function of that nonprofit work that we do.

What lessons from the marijuana business can you apply to politics, or vice versa?

The key is that when you do anything, you have to have a healthy community, and to have a healthy community, you have to be open to solving issues of all constituencies, regardless of whether you agree with them.

Do you think recreational marijuana should be legal in California?

I believe that adult use and legalization is something that is important for us to look at. We squander away a significant portion of our judicial system and financial resources in the state on marijuana offenses. I haven’t been able to review any initiative for the state ballot to see if I do or don’t support it. But in the end, I mean, of course I support legalization.

How long do you think it will take for it to become legal in California? There are some initiatives brewing for 2014.

If it doesn’t happen in 2014, it’s going to happen in 2016. I think we’ve seen public opinion is there. It’s only a matter of time before we’re going to see this move forward in a way that, honestly, I believe will create a healthier, more positive community for all of California. When you have a significant portion of people technically breaking an antiquated law, it is time to change that and look at how we can move forward as a society.

7 comments
Smokenhagen
Smokenhagen

The town has less than 8000 pop. and his shops has 20.000 members.. he may not think cannabis is the main reason he was elected, but im guessing its up there.. <3

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

"Medical marijuana" is just another name for "recreational marijuana" only they give you a "prescription" to make it legitimate.


I don't think I would want to locate a business in a state where the lawmakers are worried about the supply and demand of marijuana. Drug testing has become a major economic burden to business. Unlike alcohol, which is easy to detect from slurred speech and loss of coordination, marijuana obstructs reason and response time without the overt symptoms. A pot head can do just as much damage with a forklift as an alcoholic.

But keep your eyes peeled. Once marijuana becomes big business, democrats will move to outlaw "discrimination" against pot smokers on the grounds that it's their "smoking orientation". And that, friends, is why jobs are leaving America and going to China.

commentonitall
commentonitall

"ganjapreneurs", it irritates me when articles on this subject are filled with cute little words the author thinks are funny.  He is an entrepreneur, we don't label other entrepreneurs with combo words from their respective product.  In my mind it's disrespectful and is a clear indicator of the misinformation that has been propagated by the US government and big pharmaceutical companies.  Marijuana offenses send millions of people to jail a year, clog law enforcement man power and resources and cost this country hundreds and millions of dollars each year.  Marijuana has been proven time and time again to be harmless when ingested via foods, helps with pain, swelling, has cancer fighting agents, there is no other naturally occurring plant that does not need to be chemically altered or messed with in any way that treats the amount of ailments Marijuana does.  Pharmaceutical companies are terrified because people would no longer need ibuprofen, anit-nausea drugs, anxiety medications and depression medications.  People could grow their own medicine.  God put life here and with that comes plants.  In about 20 years society will look back on our views of marijuana and call us morons, we will look as stupid as the puritans during the witch hunts or all those people who thought the world was flat.

VincentAlvinAguilar
VincentAlvinAguilar

@SmokenhagenThe surrounding areas are probably no dispensary zones. For example, San Jose has a ~1million people and about 100 clubs, yet the surrounding areas prohibit dispensaries, so its a "beacon" for medical cannabis. So many taxes are collected (local and state) from people living in SJ and around SJ who visit to buy their medicine.

VincentAlvinAguilar
VincentAlvinAguilar

@mary.watertonDid you read anything at all? the man has AIDS. I am also a cannabis patient in CA with PTSD and this just is a slap on the face to everyone who uses it as medicine.

Here is some proof that cannabis isn't like alcohol at all:


http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457513002315

The highest risk of the driver being severely injured was associated with driving positive for high concentrations of alcohol (≥0.8 g/L), alone or in combination with other psychoactive substances. For alcohol, risk increased exponentially with blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The second most risky category contained various drug–drug combinations, amphetamines and medicinal opioids. Medium increased risk was associated with medium sized BACs (at or above 0.5 g/L, below 0.8 g/L) and benzoylecgonine. The least risky drug seemed to be cannabis and benzodiazepines and Z-drugs.


ethernot
ethernot

@mary.waterton

Wow--the only statement in that entire ignorant, biased rant that has any foundation in reality is "Drug testing has become a major economic burden to business."

Well done!

Duncan_20903
Duncan_20903

Hi mary, could you tell me, what's the color of the sky in your fantasy land?

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