George Zimmer is best known, among those who know him (and there are more than a few) as the man behind America’s most famous outlet store for business suits, the Men’s Warehouse. But he has another identity, one that gets renewed attention every few years as the politics of legalization ebb and flow: He’s a big believer in legal weed.
Zimmer has given hoards of money to reform causes over the years. He ranks with Peter Lewis, the late founder of Progressive Insurance, as one of the most successful executives to put his money and reputation behind legalization.
In September, Zimmer delivered the keynote address at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in Los Angeles, where he advocated for legalization in California and called the drug war a giant “con” pulled on the American people.
Like Lewis, Zimmer has a long history with weed, and he’s not ashamed of it. He’s been toking on a regular basis for half a century, telling CNBC that, “as you can see, it’s really impacted me in a negative way.”
Zimmer’s business is a giant in the men’s garment industry, worth roughly $150 million. Zimmer himself is well known to many Americans from his frequent appearances in moderately cheesy Men’s Warehouse commercials.
Zimmer actively supports legalization campaigns
He has put his money behind legalization in the past. In 2010, when the issue came up for a public vote in California, he poured $50,000 into Proposition 19. It failed, leaving the pro-reform movement in chaos for the next few years, but Zimmer has continued his support.
He said he even considered investing money in cannabis startups until he learned the IRS forbids most business deductions for pot shops and medical marijuana dispensaries.
Several groups are currently working to put legalization on the ballot again in 2016. The plethora of petitions could pose a problem for reform advocates, since voters facing multiple similar ballot initiatives typically reject them all. But if reformers can settle on a single, realistic proposal, legalization is a good bet next year.
Political opponents to marijuana don’t know the trust about pot
Zimmer said he thinks it’s “astounding” that “the truth” about marijuana is clear to everyone except the politicians who ban it. It’s widely considered the safest recreational drug, yet the federal government subjects it to the same restrictions that apply to heroin and LSD.
“This is the biggest con that has been perpetrated on this country in the last century,” he said during his speech.
California, as Zimmer noted, stands to reap a major windfall should legalization pass, as polls suggest it could. Colorado, one of the first two states to legalize cannabis, has taken in nearly $75 million so far this year and will likely double its profits from last year.