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Obama financier-turned pot shop owner: ‘They can’t criminalize us’

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, April 20, 2012 12:12 EDT
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President Barack Obama with medical marijuana entrepreneur Wanda James. Courtesy photo.
 
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Wanda James (pictured, above), a Navy veteran, restaurant owner, longtime Democratic strategist and former member of Obama’s national finance committee, might not be the kind of person you’d expect to sell weed.

Because of her background,  she’s in a perfect position to champion the cause of marijuana entrepreneurship, and it’s all because “they can’t criminalize us,” James told Raw Story this week.

Fans of The Daily Show might recognize her from a segment in 2010, during which comedian Jason Jones visited her storefront and actually licked her hand to see if she, like her products, was “infused” with marijuana.

“They were just talking about everything in the [room] being infused, and it turned into a joke,” she explained. “Then Jason turned around and goes, ‘Would you have a problem if I licked you?’ And I’m like, ‘Probably.’ But, it turned out they did a tremendous job with the piece Jason put together.”

As one of Colorado’s most known and respected medical marijuana proprietors, it might not be surprising that James has deep roots with local progressives. She formerly worked with Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) on his successful campaign for Congress in 2008, and prior to that led an unsuccessful congressional campaign in 2006 for Lt. Col. Jay Fawcett.

Now she’s a top adviser to the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which has landed a spot on the statewide ballot this fall, and it’s all because she and others like her have taken the lead in changing community attitudes toward marijuana’s interaction with local businesses.

“I’ve always said that what’s important for us is to be able to show that real people, real mom and pop type folks — real human beings — are involved in this industry,” she said. “It’s not America’s worst fear of everybody in this industry is some gun slinging… whatever their biggest fear happens to be. That’s not what this industry is about.”

“[My husband] and I were comfortable with putting ourselves forward because, we’re pretty well known here in Colorado because of our politics and because of our restaurant. So, we were comfortable saying, ‘Here, look: We’re just business owners trying to do things the right way.’ And it’s because they can’t criminalize us.”

So far, so good: her business is thriving, and it’s beginning to look like Colorado may just vote for full-on legalization this fall.

“We’re really excited to see [legalization] during a [presidential] election year,” James said. “We’re really changing the hearts and minds of people. Colorado now has had two years of a very active medical marijuana program and the sky hasn’t fallen here. There aren’t people passed out in the streets holding joints; there aren’t drug cartels taking over Denver… There aren’t all those things that people thought would happen. Our dispensary program attracts less crime than other pharmacies in Colorado. People here feel okay about this. I think we’ll see that reflected in the vote this November.”

Her time with the Obama campaign, however, has ended. The separation happened on her terms, she said, and not theirs.

“I’ve been asked to raise money in different fundraisers for him,” James said. “While President Obama definitely has my support and my vote because he’s good on a number of other issues I believe in, unfortunately on this issue he’s still miserly. I’m not sure what’s behind it.”

“It’s extremely disappointing to me to have, quite frankly, a black man as president that has smoked pot, that didn’t get caught, that didn’t get a felony, that got to go on to be president… Who is still okay with the 700,000 black and brown boys that get felony arrests every year in this country for the use of marijuana,” she concluded. “I have a real issue with that.”

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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