D.C.’s Pot Legalization Initiative Gets Some Unexpected Star Power

This long-haired soap tycoon has attracted a cult following for his inventively packaged hemp soap and history of strange political actions.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Feb. 7, 2014, 8:59 a.m.

Dis­trict of Columbia res­id­ents might know Dav­id Bron­ner, the Cali­for­nia-based own­er of Dr. Bron­ner’s Ma­gic Soaps, as the guy who camped out in front of the White House in a steel cage un­til au­thor­it­ies came and for­cibly re­moved him with a power saw. At the time he was protest­ing U.S. hemp policy. Now the own­er of a top-selling nat­ur­al-soap chain has turned his sights to oth­er per­ceived Wash­ing­ton wrongs.

In 2013 he donated $100,000 to suc­cess­ful leg­al­iz­a­tion ini­ti­at­ives in Col­or­ado and Wash­ing­ton; this year Bron­ner put $20,000 in­to an ini­ti­at­ive to make it leg­al for Dis­trict res­id­ents to pos­sess up to 2 ounces of marijuana, to sell an ounce at a time, and to grow three plants in their homes. (The lead pro­ponent of the ini­ti­at­ive, Adam Ei­denger, is Bron­ner’s D.C. me­dia dir­ect­or.)

It’s a sub­stan­tial amount of money for an ini­ti­at­ive, first filed with the D.C. Board of Elec­tions in Janu­ary, that has so far raised just $28,000. But more im­port­ant than the fin­an­cial sup­port is the celebrity of this pony-tailed marijuana act­iv­ist whose rain­bow Mer­cedes runs on french-fry grease.

Bron­ner, the grand­son of com­pany founder Emanuel Bron­ner, has man­aged to turn the quirky soap com­pany, which sells tingly, li­quid hemp soap in weirdly wordy la­bels, in­to a ro­bust busi­ness with sales in the tens of mil­lions.

The man is a mas­ter of mar­ket­ing ab­surdity, so per­haps it makes sense that in an age when oth­er hip­pie products like Burt’s Bees and Tom’s of Maine have been bought up by lar­ger con­sumer-goods com­pan­ies, Bron­ner has pur­sued a rad­ic­al polit­ic­al agenda seem­ingly at odds with run­ning a large busi­ness. Bey­ond leg­al­iz­a­tion ef­forts, Bron­ner’s polit­ic­al agenda in­cludes protest­ing policies that fail to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between oil­seed and fiber vari­et­ies of can­nabis, and he’s fight­ing the rise of ge­net­ic­ally mod­i­fied foods.

It’s not your typ­ic­al busi­ness move, but people love him for it. “As a res­id­ent, I’m truly thank­ful for the rare busi­ness lead­er like Dav­id who not only talks the talk about giv­ing back to com­munit­ies but who so clearly and con­sist­ently walks the walk,” said Tom An­gell, chair­man of pro-leg­al­iz­a­tion group Marijuana Ma­jor­ity. “We need more like him.”

The meas­ure, which would re­quire the sig­na­tures of 23,000 D.C. res­id­ents to make it on the bal­lot in Novem­ber, comes as Dis­trict coun­cil mem­bers are pre­par­ing to de­crim­in­al­ize pos­ses­sion of small amounts of marijuana. Un­der the de­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion bill, pos­ses­sion of an ounce or less would be pun­ish­able only with a $25 fine. The coun­cil backed the bill in a pre­lim­in­ary vote this week, and the meas­ure is ex­pec­ted to be signed in­to law by May­or Vin­cent Gray.

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