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.