Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia takes therapy leave after sexual misconduct
The co-founder of the influential Marijuana Policy Project announced Tuesday that he is stepping down in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal.
Executive Director Rob Kampia said he is taking a three-month medical leave, starting Tuesday evening, to get therapy for his attitudes toward women. "I just think I'm hypersexualized," he told us.
In August, Kampia slept with a female subordinate after an employee happy hour at a Capitol Hill pub. News of the hookup sparked seven staff resignations, including the woman's. "It is true I had consensual sex with a female employee and I exhibited poor judgment in doing so," said Kampia.
Board Chairman Peter Lewis said Kampia was "encouraged" to take the leave and his return is subject to "convincing the board he has dealt with his issues." Lewis is bringing an outside management team to MPP's Washington office Wednesday to "see where we are."
Kampia, 41, co-founded MPP 15 years ago and has become one of the leading voices for marijuana legalization. His career in advocacy was launched by a three-month prison stint during college for growing his own weed and, helped by donations from insurance billionaire Lewis, MPP has begun to eclipse longer-established groups in the field, such as NORML. MPP celebrated its anniversary with a glittering gala last week featuring Cheech and Chong.
The Aug. 6 incident, first reported by High Times and the Washington Examiner, so deeply demoralized the organization that four employees resigned immediately and three others left soon thereafter.
"The judgment and poor character that Rob showed couldn't be reconciled," said a former communications staffer (who's still looking for a job and asked not to be associated with MPP).
"It was a painful decision. I believe strongly in the cause. This isn't good for the movement."
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.
But Kampia, who claimed this was only the second time he had sex with a MPP employee (the other a longtime girlfriend), said the incident sparked an immediate change in his personal and professional lives.
"I wasn't nearly careful enough in considering other people's feelings with my actions and my language," he said. "I've also learned I'm capable of change because, overnight, we changed the culture of MPP."
The board immediately instituted a formal sexual harassment policy, a non-fraternization policy and improved procedures to address grievances, and required the entire MPP staff of 38 employees to attend sexual harassment awareness training by a lawyer. Managers were required to take additional training to identify any potential problems.
The board kept the moves quiet, Kampia said, which left the mistaken impression he just got a slap on the wrist. "The board said that if anything like this happened again, I'm fired," Kampia said. "This has been the worst experience of my life. I almost lost my life's cause."
Kampia said he has not spoken to the former employee from that August night -- he tried and got no response, and didn't want to "badger her."
Lewis said his focus is where the organization goes from here. "Up until now, I think MPP has done a remarkable job in moving toward its objective" and without Kampia "will be different -- and could be better." But he'd like to see him return: "Absolutely. I'm a big fan."
The Reliable Source
January 19, 2010; 3:37 PM ET
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