CEOs tend to be somewhat straight edged types, more given to waking up early and working late than for taking time to relax, or for advocating for something as controversial as the legalization of marijuana.
There have been a few notable and very successful exceptions.
Probably the most outspoken of them is Progressive Corporation’s longtime CEO and now Chairman Peter Lewis. In a 1995 profile on him in Fortune, someone close to him said that “he is a functioning pothead.”
Lewis writes, in an editorial for Forbes:
My story is fairly simple. I grew up after college in a world where social drinking was the norm but marijuana was hidden. When I was 39 I tried marijuana for the first time. I found it to be better than scotch. But it wasn’t until I had serious medical problems that I realised how important marijuana could be.
When I was 64 my left leg was amputated below the knee because there was an infection that couldn’t be cured. I spent a year after the amputation in excruciating pain and a year in a wheelchair. So during that period I was very glad I had marijuana. It didn’t exactly eliminate the pain, but it made the pain tolerable—and it let me avoid those heavy-duty narcotic pain relievers that leave you incapacitated.
His marijuana use didn’t seem to hold him back. He built Progressive from a tiny, 40 person company into one of America’s three largest auto insurers, worth more than $14 billion. He himself is a billionaire, worth an estimated $1.2 billion.
Beyond his personal use, Lewis is among the biggest donors in the world to organisations that support marijuana legalization. The National organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) estimates that he’s spent $40 to $60 million on the cause.
His advocacy comes because “our marijuana laws are outdated, ineffective and stupid,” Lewis writes in Forbes.
Virgin Richard Branson is another high profile supporter of legalization, recently writing on LinkedIn that his biggest wish for 2013 is that the world will make progress on ending the war on drugs.
Millions of otherwise productive lives are wasted in jail for marijuana possession and other nonviolent drug violations. California alone could raise an estimated US $1.4B in annual revenue if it taxed and regulated the sale of marijuana – so imagine the revenue that is keeping the underworld in business.
He’s admitted to using marijuana recreationally, and claims that Keith Richards taught him to roll a joint for the first time.
Branson is one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, his Virgin Group is made up of more than 400 companies, and he’s worth an estimated $4.6 billion.
In California, where medical marijuana is a legal and growing business, the drug is particularly popular among highly stressed Silicon Valley engineers. Mark Johnson, the CEO of personalised news service Zite, told Bloomberg Businessweek that marijuana use is “extremely common” among tech workers, and that he personally smokes daily.
These figures are still somewhat out of the mainstream, particularly among their peers. But public support for legalization has grown, and soon, they might not be alone.
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