By David Bienenstock and Richard Cusick
On January 19, Rob Kampia agreed to take a leave of absence as Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project in the wake of a [link|http://hightimes.com/news/bean/6133|sexual misconduct scandal] that saw seven full-time staffers resign from the organization in protest of his actions and/or MPP’s subsequent institutional response. Kampia, 41, who co-founded MPP in 1995, has confirmed having sex with a subordinate female employee following a staff happy hour in August of 2009, and admitted to “poor judgment” at that time and to using inappropriate language throughout his tenure at MPP, but claims the incident in question was consensual and not in violation of MPP’s written rules of conduct.
Kampia’s unpaid leave of absence will last at least three months, and will include therapy for what he described as his “hypersexual” personality. According to MPP’s Chairman of the Board, Peter Lewis, Kampia’s return to the organization is contingent upon “convincing the Board [of Directors] that he has dealt with his issues.”
Since Kampia’s departure, MPP has cancelled their annual benefit at the Playboy Mansion, and officially discontinued an institutional grants program that provided funds to both national and grassroots marijuana law reform organizations. In 2008, MPP distributed $1.5 million in grants that benefited organizations including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, SAFER, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Drug Sense; then for 2009 the program was scaled back to $560,000. At this time, there are no new grants scheduled for 2010.
MPP has officially offered no clear rationale for the decision, but Kampia explained: “It’s based on the fact that [Peter Lewis] is getting fed up with negative publicity. He’s getting more and more agitated and nervous about the lay of the land of this movement, and so he’s cutting the grants program entirely, which is basically going to wipe out a number of our allies… It hurts them more than it hurts MPP, because MPP basically doesn’t take a shot on that one.”
Kampia contacted HIGH TIMES by telephone on January 27th, shortly after an expose entitled “[link|http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/38415/the-breast-massage-wil...|The Breast Massage Will Happen]” appeared in the Washington City Paper and offered to take our questions, citing the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal as a cautionary tale. “Back in 1998, Bill Clinton kind of dragged the story out, for about a year, by not just saying what happened, and letting the American people put it behind them.”
HIGH TIMES: You told the Washington Post that you are “[link|http://voices.washingtonpost.com/reliable-source/2010/01/mpps_rob_kampia...|hyper-sexualized],” and that you will step down from MPP for at least three months and go into therapy. What makes you think that you are hyper-sexualized?
Rob Kampia: You know, I had never actually used that term before, and when I said it, I didn’t know the dictionary definition. Nor have I looked at the dictionary definition since then. Maybe I used it correctly. I don’t know. But what I meant was that I’ve had too much of a focus on sex in my life, and I want to get that more in balance with other aspects of my life.
Do you believe that you have a medical disability, or do you believe that you have a lack of proportion in how you integrate sex into the rest of your life?
I would say it is the latter.
So you don’t believe that you have a medical condition?
Well, I don’t know what that means. Is that a legal term?
You described yourself as hyper-sexualized, and you are seeking treatment for it, do you consider yourself to be afflicted with a medical condition called hyper-sexuality?
Okay. I don’t know the definition of that, as I previously stated.
Can you describe the treatment that you are seeking? And what it is for?
Well, it’s for, like I just said, too much focus on sex in my life over the past number of years, and I am in therapy.
And that is going to go on for a three-month period?
Probably more than that. I don’t know if this got back to you or not. I was actually going to go into treatment, even before this story broke. I was already on that track. I have been in and out of therapy for years for anxiety and depression, and I was going to go back into therapy before this story broke. So this is something that I felt was needed, regardless of the news coverage. And I therefore don’t look at it as specifically a three-month therapy. It could be a year. It could be four months. Five months. Who knows?
So where did the three month term come from?
Three months is only in regards to the leave of absence.
Who determined the length of the leave of absence? What is it based on?
It was determined by the board of directors, on which I sit. We felt like it was important to come up with a number of days, rather than just being vague about it.
When did the light go off in your head? Was it before the incident in August or was it after?
You mean the light with regard to the determination of my hyper-sexuality? Well, it's definitely something that I was aware of before August. There were things in my life, certainly not as dramatic as what happened in August, but things in my life that pointed to the need for me to deal with issues involving sex. In fact those issues were addressed to some extent when I was in therapy for anxiety and depression. But they were secondary my discussions with my therapist in the past about anxiety and depression. So, I have been aware of it for years, but I think, it is kind of what a lot of people do in therapy. They’re in for a year or two, and they feel like they’re not making any more progress, and then they take a break for a year, and then they go back in. That is kind of what I have been doing for about eleven years or so.
In the therapy that you’ve had over the years for anxiety and depression, did you seek out MDMA therapy for that?
Oh, yeah. That's separate. Yeah. I have done that...seven times.
Was that helpful?
These helpful sessions all took place prior to August 7th?
Ah...yes. I haven’t done any MDMA therapy since August 7th.
So is it fair to say that you have been in therapy for many years, repeatedly, with a variety of approaches to therapy, and yet none of that therapy helped you avoid the incident on August 7th, and the decisions that you made?
No that would not be accurate to say, because that implies that I’ve been in and out of therapy for years to deal with specifically with issues relating to sex. That was not the focus of my MDMA therapy, at all.
It had to do with depression and anxiety?
It had to do mostly with anxiety and a bad experience with LSD from 1989.
Were you on medication for that?
Yes. I have been on Wellbutrin on and off for about a decade. I also have a prescription for Ativan.
I just want to be clear about a series of events. Prior to August 7th, you say incidents in your personal life led you to believe that you probably did have a problem integrating sex into your life. You’ve been seeking therapy regularly for more than a decade. All prior to this incident…
Yeah... I wouldn’t say incidents. I would say observations.
Fair enough. So how can you be confident that with three months of therapy, after ten years of prior therapy, that you’ll be ready to return to MPP?
Well I never said I was confident. I am going to do my best, and I don’t think that my previous therapy, involving anxiety or depression, points to the likelihood or probability of success of therapy involving sex.
I want to get back to something you said referencing Bill Clinton. You said that the best policy was to get the facts out there quickly. Correct?
But why did you, or MPP, not make any public statements about the incident on August 7th, or the staff departures that followed, until it came out in the press?
Because we felt that the matter was behind us. After the seven folks left – well, immediately after August 7th, we changed the policies on dating and so forth in the office as well as the culture and the language. So that has actually been very clean since August 7th. Furthermore, the staff morale was back on track. Our fundraising was on track. We were changing marijuana policies.
So basically, if nobody found out about it, nobody needed to know outside of MPP?
That’s right. Because the people that needed to know, knew in August.
What about people who are donating money to MPP? Do you think they have a right to know that seven staffers left in protest of your leadership?
Well, it’s a mischaracterization to say that seven staffers left as a result of my leadership. It's an oversimplification. But, nevertheless, we have had, as any organization does, various personnelissues over the fifteen years of MPP’s existence, and we don’t blast out news releases every time. So that would be a little inconsistent with how we’ve handled other personnel matters.
If any of those seven people didn’t leave because of your leadership that would be news to me. Do you think that someone who is considering making a charitable donation to MPP because they want to support marijuana law reform has a reasonable right to know what happened?
Yeah, I can see both sides of it.
MPP Chairmen of the Board Peter Lewis was asked what would be required to force your resignation. He said, “I don’t know. Shoot somebody. Bring an unregistered gun into the office. Those are criminal behaviors.” And I am wondering if that is the standard that you hold yourself to? That unless you’re caught committing a crime, you shouldn’t be forced to resign?
Well…that's not… I don’t agree that that should be the standard. For instance, if I come back to MPP, and I were to do something as equally as stupid as what I did in August, then I should be fired. So, that’s an example of what would trigger a termination without there being any criminal behavior; and I think most people would agree with that.
Okay, but would you admit that you’ve already been a repeat offender, as far as inappropriate behavior?
Well, behavior or language?
Language is behavior.
Well, if you're going to define it like that, then, yeah. I have used inappropriate language over the years.
And you've had management including your Chief of Staff Allison Green, address that issue multiple times per year, every year, for the last several years at least, correct?
I don’t know. I wasn’t clocking it. I didn’t …
Is Allison Green’s statement that she talked to you multiple times a year, every year, about this, is that accurate? Is it close to accurate?
Um… No… well, I don’t know exactly. What did she say in the article? I don’t have it in front of me.
She said basically that she had conversations with you multiple times a year about sexually inappropriate language and behavior in the office.
Yes. Allison and I have had numerous conversations about it over the course of a few years before August.
So this isn’t really a second chance, is it?
Well, no one registered a complaint about it before. That is the thing I am trying to get to here. It wasn’t like we had an office full of saints and I was standing alone being vulgar. Two-thirds of the staff were engaged in crude language over the course of MPP’s history.
As the Executive Director, doesn’t that make it worse?
Well, you can judge that for yourself. I am just telling you the facts here.
Okay. Why did you file a complaint against the co-worker that asked if you had been raped in prison?
I didn’t file a complaint.
Didn’t you register a complaint with another member of the staff about that language?
Yeah. Well, you’re making it sound like some formal complaint, which it wasn’t. It was me informally expressing that I felt that the individual in question probably was too drunk at a staff function and was kind of being... you know... I was surprised that he asked me what he asked me. I wasn’t filing a complaint. I said to the person who was his superior, I said, I personally… a lot of people have joked about the question about whether I, and others have been assaulted in prison. It seems to be an acceptable joke in our society. I personally was not offended by it, because I’ve heard that kind of commentary or questioning for years, since I got out of jail, but I was surprised that the staffer in question crossed that line with me because he was taking a risk. He didn’t know how I was going to react.
And why wouldn’t that fit into the general atmosphere you just described where two-thirds of the staff regularly make these kind of comments?
Because the two-thirds of the staff that are regularly making vulgar comments had the impression that their comments were welcomed.
When the email went back and forth [with former MPP Major Gifts Officer Sarah Hench] regarding the breast massage, weren’t you made aware that your comments were unwelcome?
Well, at the point that I felt they were unwelcome, it was the point that I stopped.
According to the email chain, she specifically told you that she did not want to see these kinds of comments; and the next message included another sexually explicit comment.
Okay. Well, I don’t have that email chain in front of me, so I can’t comment on that.
What were you prepared to do if that coworker continued to make those kinds of comments [about prison rape] that you found objectionable?
I don’t know. It never got that far. It wasn’t a big deal.
But what if it continued? Would you consider firing somebody for continually making comments like that to you?
No, because that would have been unfair. Because there were so many people who made similar comments or inappropriate comments. To single one person out would be unfair.
So you would allow a subordinate employee to regularly, in public, ask you questions about prison rape, that you had already expressed made you uncomfortable.
Okay. Well I didn’t express it to him, first of all. Second of all...
Let's just say he continued.
That’s hypothetical, and I don’t want to get into the hypotheticals.
Do you think that your actions have hurt the marijuana law reform movement?
I think the HIGH TIMES coverage has harmed the marijuana law reform movement. And you can quote me on that.
But you don’t think your actions have? In any way, at any time?
Yeah. We all make mistakes, and I have sure made some mistakes that have harmed our cause.
In what way?
Well, the fact that I engaged in stupid behavior in August that then led to media coverage, that has caused there to be a lot of people who are upset in our movement. It makes it pretty crystal clear. I don’t know why you’re asking that question.
Is it safe to say that your problem is not with your actions, but with media coverage of them?
No. I have taken responsibility for what I did in August. I mean I’ve referred to it a couple of times in this interview as being stupid, and it was poor judgment. I totally take responsibility.
Would you consider rehiring any of the employees that resigned in protest of your actions?
Only those who have not tried to intentionally hurt the organization. And I use the word intentionally, intentionally.
Based on your past actions, which were described as “horrifying and objectively disturbing,” by your Chief of Staff, and “as bad as it could be,” by the Chairmen of MPP’s Board, how can you ever hope to represent this movement, in a society that is already deeply suspicious of marijuana reform organizations and their leaders?
This is kind of a dangerous comparison to make, but I’m going to just point to Bill Clinton for instance. What he did with Monica Lewinski was stupid. Most people I know did not actually think that Bill Clinton should lose his job over it. Clinton went on to lead the country for a couple years after that. And that was a worldwide publicized scandal, that in exposure far exceeded what happened at MPP in August. So if Bill Clinton can keep his job, and lead the most powerful country in the world afterwards, I assume that I would be capable of doing something simpler. Leading an organization that is obviously quite tiny in comparison to what Bill Clinton had to lead.
What is your current compensation, from both MPP and the MPP Foundation per year?
Zero. I am not getting paid.
And before this incident?
Before the incident it was $151,000.
Outside of dealing with the staff, has your hyper-sexuality ever impacted your ability to do your job?
Has it ever impacted your duties as a fundraiser?
Have you ever slept with a donor? Or a potential donor?
No. I don’t recall that I ever have.
You’ve never had sexual relations with someone who donated to MPP or was considering donating money to MPP?
Well, I guess there’s been a few women that have donated twenty-five or fifty dollars over the course of the years. But when I do fundraising, I’m dealing with people with huge sums of money. So in my fundraising capacity, I haven’t had sexual relations with any major donors.
What defines a major donor?
Well I only do meetings with people who are able, or willing to give, usually the cut off is $5,000 or more.
Have you ever described yourself as having a problem with alcohol?
Yes. I have.
Has alcohol abuse ever impacted your duties as a fundraiser?
Has your hyper-sexuality ever taken priority over asking for funds from a donor?
No. And it is kind of easy to explain, because almost all donors in this movement are men.
Is it possible that your hyper-sexual attitude prevented you from having successful interactions with potential female donors?
No. There are hardly any potential female donors out there, unfortunately.
Do you think it is possible that having somebody with your attitude as the head of the largest marijuana law reform organization is part of the reason for that?
Have you ever approved or disapproved a grant based on having a sexual history with a principle, employee, or volunteer of a program that requested a grant from MPP?
Have you ever had sexual relations with anyone who was a MPP grant recipient or a potential grant recipient?
Um... I think once
When was that?
I believe it was 2003.
What can you tell us about the incident? What happened?
The organization in question received money before the sexual relations occurred. And the organization received money after, and there was no change in funding. It didn’t have any impact in the funding decisions or the actual funding.
Did you disclose that relationship to anybody?
I don’t recall. You know, it was six years ago.
Do you think that you should have?
I think given the new way of being at MPP, absolutely. Nothing like that would happen again, or in the future. I think that even though it didn’t affect any funding decisions, I think now that I learned since August how these things can be perceived, it would be very poor judgment to do that in the future and I won’t do that again regardless of what organization I will be working with.
You didn’t think it was poor judgment at the time you did it?
At the time I did it, no I did not think it was poor judgment.
In 2003 you did not think it was poor judgment to have a sexual relationship with somebody for whom you were the final decision-maker regarding whether or not they received money from MPP?
Well, I am not the final decision maker, there are a number other people who are involved in reviewing grants applications.
But you are the Executive Director of MPP?
And you did not think that it was, at the time, inappropriate to have sex with somebody who was a grant recipient; and you did not think it was necessary to disclose that relationship to anyone else?
Yeah. At the time, in 2003, I had a different view than I have now… I also want to say that I have to leave in ten minutes. I have an appointment.
Earlier, you confirmed that you’ve described yourself as having a problem with alcohol. Do you consider yourself an alcoholic?
Will alcohol recovery be part of the therapy you are about to undertake?
Alcohol with certainly be discussed. I talked to a therapist friend of mine – I wasn’t in therapy with him, I was talking as a friend – and he wondered if there was an intersection between alcohol use and my problems with having intimacy with women I am dating. So in that context, I would actually like to bring alcohol into the conversation with my therapist.
I’m going to read from a story published in the Washington City Paper: “Kampia denies that he had been waiting for the right time to pounce on the employee. ‘I was interested in her for the night,’ Kampia says. Now at the end of that night, the employee drove away from the bar with Kampia in the passenger seat. In the middle of the ride, Kampia asked to take the wheel, worried that his employee was too drunk to drive. And then he steered her back to his purple Columbia Heights mansion.” Is that more or less an accurate description of that night?
The driving part was accurate. But the ‘interested in her’ part was taken out of context by that reporter. What I had said was that I was not interested in the woman in question beforehand. Nor did I ask her out on a date, which some people have accused me of, which is not true. As everyone was leaving the bar, she asked me if I was going home. And she actually asked me if I wanted to go out, instead of going home. And I said yes. So I think that when the reporter said “interested in her for one night,” it makes it sound like I was pursuing her that night. Which is absolutely not the case.
Were you drunk that night? Do you remember how many drinks you had?
No. I was not drunk.
Had you been drinking? How many drinks did you have?
I had three at the bar.
When she approached you, would you qualify her as being drunk?
I did not think she was drunk.
You thought she was too drunk to drive, though?
Well, remember… I didn’t actually… I thought that she was fine to drive, or I wouldn’t have gotten in the car with her.
Okay. Then how did you wind up then back at your house?
I asked her where she wanted to go, and she said I don’t know. I said, ‘Well, where are you going after this? Where do you live? We should head in that direction.’ Then she told me where she lived. So I said “Lets go somewhere on the way so that you're not driving out of the way.’ And then she said ‘What about your neighborhood?’ since I live halfway in between where the happy hour was and her house; and I said ‘Sure. Sounds good.’
Then you went back to your house, and, according to you, you had consensual sex. Is that correct?
If she was too drunk to drive when you got in the car, was she sober enough to give her consent?
Well, I am actually not sure if she was too drunk to drive. I feel she might have been on the edge. So I thought why risk it, because I knew I wasn’t drunk. So then we switched seats. And yes, she was absolutely coherent enough, lucid enough to give consent a couple hours later.
The young woman in question, was there a settlement made with her?
We actually don’t discuss as a matter of policy any settlement agreements, or separation agreements with anyone about employees.
Can you assure potential donors to MPP, or past donors, that none of their money was used to settle sexual harassment complaints?
We don’t discuss that.
So you cannot offer that guarantee to past or potential donors?
No company that I know of could make such a guarantee about separation agreements.
Do you think the four people who left MPP in the days after this incident would resign their jobs based on an ‘office hook-up’?
Yeah. Because that’s why they said they were leaving.
According to the story in the Washington City Paper, you dated an 18-year-old employee at MPP in 2008. Is that accurate?
I assume there were hook-ups with that 19-year-old, and nobody quit at that time. What was different?
Because no one knew about that. I don’t want to make a claim that I can’t back up, but I believe no one knew that I was even dating the 19-year-old.
How did they find out?
I don’t know actually.
Yeah, I guess so, but we don’t know when they knew either. You know, I just don’t know.
What doesn’t seem to make sense is that you have seven employees, all of whom are in good standing, many of whom have been consistently promoted within the organization, quit in protest of your actions, in the worst job climate in recent history, over something that is not a big deal. What am I missing? If it is not a big deal, what happened? Why would seven people quit jobs that they all uniformly said they loved and say these things about you?
Well, I don’t know why you’re saying it's not a big deal. I do consider it to be a big deal.
Let me put it this way: Until the story came out in the press, there were no serious repercussions for you. Why do you think the reaction was so intense to an incident that you don’t think should cost you your job?
Well, I can answer your question. Different people have different reasons. The woman who I hooked up with quit because she regretted it and didn’t want to work in the same office with her boss’s boss and her ex-boyfriend. Her ex-boyfriend quit because he thought I was a total jerk. His two roommates quit because they were loyal to their friend, and thought that I was a jerk and really took his side and stood by him in solidarity. And those two roommates were no angels in their own behavior and language. They never claimed that my language or previous behavior was offensive, they just thought I was a jerk, which they are entitled to believe. I am going to give it to you in chronological order. That’s four. Two women quit because they felt that I had a long history of inappropriate language, and then me actually hooking up with a staffer was the final straw.
One of them, [former Membership Director] Salem Pearce, had approached you to address these concerns prior to the incident, correct?
No. Actually I brought it up with her. What happened was she expressed to Allison that she was concerned about something that happened before August and then Allison brought it up with me, and when I was meeting with Salem I decided I wanted to clear the air and I brought it up with her.
And you indicated to her that relationships between yourself and subordinate staffers were acceptable. Correct?
Yeah. We had an informal policy… Well, the formal policy was that all dating was permitted. I had a personal policy to not date anyone who directly reported to me.
But as Executive Director, and as somebody who had the without-cause ability to fire any employee, doesn’t everyone at MPP report to you ultimately?
No actually. Most employees at MPP I have no interaction with.
Whether you have interaction with them or not, you are in a position to, according to the MPP handbook, fire any employee, with or without cause.
Well, that might be what it says in the handbook, but that's not what actually happens in practice. I am not actually involved in the firings of any employees, other than the department heads, and my personal assistant. The department heads are in charge of firing people who are in their departments.
That’s pretty easy to say after the fact, but your own printed handbook that you give to your employees makes it explicitly clear that they can be fired with or without cause at any time.
No one’s made any accusations of any quid pro quo here so you can say it’s wrong all you want but I haven’t actually done anything wrong in that regard.
Let’s go back a bit. Why did [former Director of Communications] Bruce Mirken resign? I don't think you got to Mirken.
No I did not. I think he was frustrated and disappointed in the board process back in August. He told me in writing and orally that he was not quitting over the incident itself. He was quitting over the handling of the incident.
Do you think the board acted properly in this entire sequence of events?
Yes. The board review was quite thorough back in August. And they did their due-diligence.
If the board did their due-diligence, than how come you weren’t forced to step down until the story came out almost six months later?
I think it's because the media coverage started to be a distraction for the organization. So I think the board shifted.
Isn’t that unfair to you? If your actions were inappropriate, but you can stay in your position in August, and now simply because there is attention paid to what the Board already knew, they force you out? Isn’t that an unfair way to treat you?
I am not going to categorize it as fair or unfair.
Did you agree with that decision?
I voted for it
Why wouldn't you have made that decision in August, since you knew all those things you know now?
Because I perceived, as the board did, that the media coverage was becoming a distraction.
Isn't the tarnish on your reputation always going to remain a problem for you? And won’t it keep you from being an effective activist in the future?
I think it will be as problematic for me as it was for Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinski situation.
And what are you going to do the first time you go on television to represent the marijuana law reform movement, and the person you're arguing with starts to bring up the failings in your personal life, and paints this very ugly picture of you and your organization?
I think it is highly unlikely that that would occur.
You don't think the enemies of drug law reform, who are willing to put 800,000 people through the criminal justice system every year, would bring up your well known, publicly accessible skeletons?
I don't know. I don't talk to the prohibitionists, and if you're going to ask me if it is reasonable to assume, I am not going to assume anything. I do have to say that I am actually going to be late to my appointment.
We’re going to give you the last word.
Okay. I appreciate that. I would just say that just because I'm contesting some of the alleged facts that you've posited to me, doesn't mean that I think that what I did in August was fine. I think that there is enough… Previously to August there was enough inappropriate language and in August my judgment was bad enough, that I don’t think that it is necessary to concoct – not that you're concocting it – but I don't think it's necessary for anyone to concoct stories that didn't happen. Because my judgment was bad enough as it was, and I am admitting that. I also want to say, I feel, as I think was mentioned in the Post article, I feel really terrible about what I put others through with regards to some feeling they need to quit their jobs, others reading their names in the news, the morale problems that the staff suffered back in August and September, the board having to deal with this stuff that they never signed up for. I just feel terrible that my words and actions actually caused this harm to others.