By David Bienenstock and Richard Cusick
Rob Kampia has temporarily, and possibly indefinitely, stepped down as Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which he co-founded 15 years ago, after news broke of a sexual misconduct scandal that saw at least seven full time staffers quit the organization. Kampia has now confirmed having sex with an employee, and exhibiting “poor judgment,” but claims the act was consensual. He will take a “three month medical leave,” including therapy, starting immediately.
According to the organization’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, billionaire philanthropist Peter Lewis, an outside management team will be called in tomorrow to assess how to proceed at MPP, the nation’s best funded non-profit organization dedicated to marijuana legalization, with an annual operating budget of $6 million.
Going public for the first time in HIGH TIMES, the former MPP employees confirmed that they resigned in protest of an incident which followed an informal staff happy hour on August 7, 2009, and because of what several described as a pattern of “predatory” behavior by their former boss.
Following Kampia’s announcement, former Communications Director Bruce Mirken, an eight year veteran of MPP, was the latest to step forward, telling HIGH TIMES: “None of us who left MPP over its handling of this incident take any pleasure in this situation. MPP is an important organization, whose work literally saves lives, which means it’s critical that MPP’s board use this period to take a thorough, fearless look at the whole sequence of events, including both the August incident and the way it was handled, and act to preserve the organization’s integrity.”
Former Director of Membership Salem Pearce explained her departure more bluntly: “This is all part of a pattern of behavior by Rob, who was known in the office for his sexually explicit comments and actions towards female employees and interns, particularly ones half his age and desirous of full-time jobs with MPP. Rob's willingness to jeopardize the organization for sexual gratification and his desperate attempts to keep his job sickened me and made me no longer able to work for him.”
“I just think I'm hyper-sexualized," Kampia told the Washington Post, by way of explanation for his therapy stint. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a hypersexual person exhibits“ unusual or excessive concern with or indulgence in sexual activity.”
When news of the incident first broke within the MPP office, back in August of 2009, the organization’s department heads unanimously concluded that Kampia should step down as Executive Director, though they left the door open to retaining him in another capacity, provided he was no longer in “a position of power.” Chief of Staff Alison Green approached Kampia with the department heads’ decision, and reported back by email on August 13, just over a week after the initial incident:
“As we expected, Rob wasn't particularly receptive to the idea. He also noted that if he left, [major funding] would leave with him, which would have a crippling effect of its own (presumably causing layoffs in numbers that would equal or exceed the number of people who would leave if he stays). He does understand that if he stays in his current role, a very large number of people may leave. And he understands that I will be presenting the entire situation to the board, including the sentiment of the department heads.”
Green, who originally joined the department heads in calling for Kampia to step down, then continued. “I feel obligated to say that having had that discussion, I'm no longer sure where I personally stand on the department heads' recommendation, but I am certainly committed to passing it along to the board, whether or not it ultimately has my backing.”
Green would soon withdraw her backing for the department heads’ recommendation. What information reached the board, and when, remains unclear. Sources close to the process confirmed to HIGH TIMES that, despite Green's written assurance, the Board was not informed of the department heads' initial unanimous decision, or the large majority of department heads that continued to call for Kampia to step down despite his funding threat, until after the scandal broke last week.
On August 17, Green forwarded all MPP staff a message from the Board of Directors informing them that any staff member “who wants to share their perspectives and feelings about these matters… should meet with Alison or provide her with their perspectives in writing, with or without names attached, over the next two days.” Adding her own note to the board’s message, however, Green declared she would make a “summary” of the staff’s input, rather than provide the “full account of the staff's perspectives” called for by the Board of Directors.
On August 28, Green forwarded another message from the Board, this time a “resolution” that informed staffers that Kampia would “obtain remedial sensitivity and behavior modification training ASAP,” and promised a forthcoming sexual harassment policy, the organization’s first. No further sanctions were directed at Kampia in the August 28th resolution, and no mention was made of any continuing investigation.
For the next five months, Kampia faced no further sanctions, and at no time did he or MPP publicly acknowledge the incident or the nature of the staff departures. Following the breaking of the story late last week, and subsequent reporting at hightimes.com, however, the Board of Directors met several times in short succession. Today, Peter Lewis confirmed that Kampia was “encouraged" to take a leave of absence, and that his return is subject to "convincing the board he has dealt with his issues."
HIGH TIMES continues to investigate this story.