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Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia takes therapy leave after sexual misconduct

Rob Kampia, center, poses with Tommy Chong, left, and Cheech Marin at last Wednesday's Marijuana Policy Project gala. (Ben Droz)

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."

By The Reliable Source  |  January 19, 2010; 3:37 PM ET
Categories:  Politics  
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I believe that's Cheech on the right and Chong on the left.

Posted by: Podunk | January 19, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

I believe you are correct.

"I believe that's Cheech on the right and Chong on the left.

Posted by: Podunk"

Posted by: fourteenth_and_otis | January 19, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

"non-fraternization policy"?

At an organization of dope-smokers? That is very, very funny.

BTW: If this was truly a consensual encounter, why would seven people possibly quit? I suspect there's some more reporting to do here....

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | January 19, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Almost as funny as "a former communications staffer (who's still looking for a job and asked not to be associated with MPP)."


Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | January 19, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

"If this was truly a consensual encounter, why would seven people possibly quit?"

Why would they quit you ask? Maybe they were all friends. Or they had problems at work and quit before they got in trouble and pretend its over this. See, I can make up rumor just as easy. Stop trying to insert salacious rumor into this. Only seven resigned, out of a staff of how many?

I see the named staffer in the article claims this guy had easy access to women at work as a perk. Yet he dated or slept with only two, so sounds like she's full of it.

I saw this story over at High Times already. I read the comments and its obvious a bunch of them were buddies, three of the people who quit were the female worker involved and her ex-boyfriend and his friend. Sounds like jealousy and friendship played a large role in some resignations.

Why is this all coming up again 5 months later? The quitters went to the press suddenly it seems, and are just trashing the group in public now.

Say you "believe strongly in the cause" all you want. It had been solved, a board of directors and the rest of the staff remained and steps were taken. You aren't helping the "cause", you aren't white knights, your just trying to wreck the group now. Meaning more people in jail getting beaten and raped, more sick people arrested, and laws that could pass will now fail. Nice going, that's what you are really accomplishing.


Posted by: acpackersfan | January 19, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if they shared twinkies.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | January 19, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Adam, it was 7 staffers out of 38 that quit, or 18.2% of the paid staff.

This would be like 79 congressman resigning over something Nancy Pelosi did (18.2% of a 435-member Congress), just for a numerical comparison.

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Posted by: iofferkicks739 | January 19, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse


Of those "seven", one was the female herself, one was her ex-boyfriend. Neither of them has been among the ex-staff commenting in the media, and their resignations were entirely personal it appears due to the work situation that arose directly from the woman's consensual encounter with Kampia.

The number who quit "in protest" then goes down to 5.

And it's not comparable to the Congress situation you mention -- if one person out of a group of ten quit, then it's absurd to try to compare that to one million quitting out of ten million. The stretch of the numbers is stupid -- it was five people in "protest", a tiny group from an overall much larger staff.


Posted by: acpackersfan | January 19, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Just offering the facts. 7 people of a 38-person organization quit some of the few paying jobs in drug law reform during a recession and high unemployment figures. Whether characterized as "in protest" or "in embarrassment" or "in solidarity", the numbers are 7 and 38.

However, nobody who is appalled by the scandal and supports drug law reform is glad to see any sort of negative publicity in our ranks, nor does anyone trumpet the news in hopes more sick people are arrested and incarcerated people violated. Some of us work very hard for far less pay (and many more are volunteers) trying to overcome negative stereotypes held by the mainstream against drug law reformers. If the movement is so narrowly-funded it can be brought to its knees over one man's unfortunate scandal, perhaps that speaks to a need to broaden the movement's donor base.

One such stereotype to overcome is the party-hearty, "bewbs-and-buds" atmosphere that infects all corners of drug law reform. To not address seriously the long-told tales of harassment and sexualized atmosphere throughout drug law reform organizations does a far more serious disservice to the movement than acknowledging improprieties, holding people accountable, and building a better movement.

Support for legalization of marijuana nationwide is finally topping majority support in the Gallup poll for two demographic reasons: Baby Boomers and women. Women's support rose twelve points from 2005-2009 while men's support rose only a point. Yet any cursory scan of the boards and membership of most drug law reform organizations and movement media will find a 90% male demographic. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to sexual harassment and must make every public relations effort to make our movement more open and comfortable to women.

Posted by: RadicalRuss | January 20, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

It's laughable that Rob would tout the "small" number of times he successfully slept with his employees as something he should be lauded for. What about the many employees he propositioned for sex but ended up being unsuccessful?? Sorry, but your failure to have sex with all of the people you harassed doesn't make you an acceptable leader for a professional organization.

Posted by: UsuallyDontPostComments | January 20, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Just stating the facts: if you worked somewhere and found out the CEO had married your ex-wife, you might quit over it. That doesn't make it a "scandal". The ex quit because he was angry and hurt. The woman quit out of regret, the strong reaction of her ex and his friends, and whatever other personal reasons -- but she was one of the two people in the consensual relationship. To treat those two instances as if they are "telling" about what really happened is simply nonsense.

Those facts are relevant when you and others characterize it as if all of the resignations were somehow protestations or somehow quitting in a bad job climate must indicate truth to rumors and accusations. The fact is that only maybe two or three people have claimed it was anything remotely other than fully consensual, and notably neither the woman nor her ex are among those claiming it was not consensual.

Most of the people who quit were close friends and roommates. Three of them lived together, another was the ex-girlfriend of one of those men. It is silly to pretend this isn't a factor.

People who are friends and lovers and roommates who work together frequently act in support of one another at the job, including quitting together. It happens, and the fact of a bad job market has nothing to do with it. People quit their jobs at dumb times a lot, so that is not some type of evidence supporting their claims.

When only a few people, none of them the ones directly involved, claim it was other than consensual while more than four times that many people make no such claim and remained at their jobs, even if a few of them may have felt the boss/worker aspect was questionable, is far more "telling" anyway.

You also say there is a broader problem of sexual behavior and harassment in the movement in general. If that's true, I have a pretty obvious question. Are you saying this was prevalent among other workers at the MPP? Did any of the former staff being quoted in these articles engage in similar behavior?

This is hardly irrelevant now that you raise the matter of broader behavioral problems. And it's entirely relevant to these people in particular, since they are the only ones calling Kampia a predator and suggesting harsh action must be taken against him.

To the person claiming Kampia propositioned "many employees", first I'd say this is a lot of accusations being made anonymously and without any factual backup. This is happening over at High Times as well, where a huge amount of false information and complete speculation has slowly become repeated as outright fact.


Posted by: acpackersfan | January 20, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

"notably neither the woman nor her ex are among those claiming it was not consensual"

Since I don't know anyone named Adam and I do know the two people you are referring to very well, I'm questioning how you would possibly know this?

Just because those two people have not publicly stated the contrary in the media does not mean that either of them EVER claimed it was consensual.

Posted by: UsuallyDontPostComments | January 20, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Adam, I would also like to point out that I was not commenting on here trying to stir up controversy by saying that it was not consensual. But I can't stand by while you post blatant lies (and if you know the people you were talking about then you are well aware that you are lying). I am not comfortable posting my name with these comments, mostly because it's not my place to publicly argue over whether this was consensual. I wish I could think of a way that would allow you to contact me directly because I would rather confront you that way than in this anonymous manner.

Posted by: UsuallyDontPostComments | January 20, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

As Rodney & Martin Luther King might say: "Can't we all just get along?"

Just how did Rob Kampia get started in the marijuana reform biz: inquiring minds might wanna know.

"Three days after graduating with honors from Penn State in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Science (a multidisciplinary honors program) [3] and minor in English, he moved to Washington, D.C., for the purpose of ending the government’s war on marijuana users.[4]"

Posted by: nickthimmeschearthlinknet | January 20, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

As sordid as this whole affair is, it is just one of many examples of the arrogance, ignorance and ham-handed leadership style that Rob Kampia has displayed for quite some time now. MPP has demonstrated time after time that it cannot work with other drug reform organizations. It has been sued (successfully) by state-level medical marijuana activist groups for its "bait-and-switch" funding hustle and, as a result, other state-level groups have refused to apply for MPP funds for the same reasons.

MPP has raised money on the backs of marijuana law victims without providing those victims any real help or assistance. MPP presents a disorganized, juvenile and paranoid image to the world. Some of the state medical marijuana laws that it has helped enact are among the worst in existence today.

MPP has sent staff out to states that I am working with who did much more harm than good in speaking before the legislatures of those states. Those are just a few of the management problems that I am personally aware of.

It is unfortunate that the MPP Board of Directors did not show Rob the door, once and for all. If you visit the High Times blog on this same topic today, you will see that, instead, the exodus of other MPP employees continues, some leaving yesterday over the Board's decision and the acting Director's refusal to allow continuing staff concerns to be aired before the Board.

Hopefully, the MPP Board will do its own due diligence, or those Board members will resign also. Better to leave than to foster a false image that they (and not Peter Lewis alone) control the functions of this organization.

Posted by: Intheknow4 | January 20, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

What happened to Kampia? This is what he looked like a couple of years ago:

They don't even look like the same person.

Posted by: chadborman | January 20, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Kampia can claim this is only the second time but that doesn't mean he hasn't tried. Just ask some of the women that use to work for MPP. It was a running joke among employees and interns, like myself, that the organization would be ruined by a sexual harassment suit.
I have great respect for the people and the work done there. For a small organization, they have achieved a lot in the fight for drug law reforms. It's very unfortunate that Rob always seemed willing to jeopardize the movement in exchange for access to his female employees.

Posted by: eab1 | January 20, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Oh this is too funny. A bunch of pot heads quit their org because their fearless leader can't keep it in his pants, and the 'movement' is just realizing that this could be bad for their image. Bwah hah hah hah! Please, keep it up. We love seeing you stumble!

Posted by: sharonevolving | January 20, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

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