Did Diego Pellicer Actually Grow Marijuana?
Namesake of Brand for "Starbucks of Pot" Likely Sold Banana Plants, Not Cannabis
Several times within the last year, Jamen Shively announced plans to create a legal pot empire on the scale of Starbucks. Liberally peppering his language with references to well-known companies—Coca-Cola, Neiman Marcus, and Microsoft, where the former marketing manager worked for six years—Shively focused on building a brand, saying it was more important to be "first to mind" than first to market.
The brand's namesake, Shively said, was his great-great-grandfather Diego Pellicer, a Spanish colonial governor who grew hemp in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. Of his grandpa's mustachioed mug, he told financial site Forex TV, "We want it to become the iconic image representing marijuana legalization."
The story went viral for its trifecta of irresistible components: Shively's plans to dominate the legal pot market, his ex- Microsoftie status and Bill Gates pantomime routine, and the amazing story about his ganja-growing forebear. In an interview with KIRO 7 News, Shively displayed a picture of Pellicer with the claim that he was "the world's largest marijuana producer" in the late 1800s. "He was supplying hemp rope made from the marijuana tree for the Spanish fleet," Shively told reporter Amy Clancy. "I've got marijuana in my blood, so to speak."
But there's a potential problem with that story. According to Ed Saukooja, who lobbies the state legislature to legalize industrial hemp and lives in Pe Ell, cannabis wasn't grown in the Philippines back then. What was commonly called Manila hemp is actually produced from the abaca plant. "If you know what a banana tree is, it's a mini banana tree," says Saukooja. "They used the bark as bast fiber."
Basically, any plant from which rope could be made was historically called hemp, Saukooja tells me. "Jute is hemp, sisal is hemp, kenaf is hemp."
Shively wasn't aware that the "marijuana trees" his ancestor grew were likely banana trees. "My understanding is that Manila rope was made from hemp, but now you've got me curious," he says. Will the banana tree revelation affect the Diego Pellicer marketing plan? "I'm looking into it," he says.