By David Bienenstock and Richard Cusick
As part of an ongoing investigation, HIGH TIMES magazine has confirmed that at least seven full-time staff members of the Washington, DC based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) have quit their jobs in protest of an alleged incident of sexual misconduct by MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia, which took place following an informal staff “happy hour” in August of 2009.
“I left MPP because of an incident involving Rob Kampia and a female employee, and because of how that incident was handled by organization leadership,” Former Director of Membership Salem Pearce told HIGH TIMES. “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.”
Co-founded by Kampia in 1995, MPP is the best-funded national organization working for marijuana legalization in the United States, with a yearly operating budget of $6 million. Kampia serves as both Executive Director of MPP, and a member of its Board of Directors. Reached for comment on this story by HIGH TIMES, Kampia said: “Some of it’s true, some of it’s not true… This isn’t gonna be good for anyone…[but] it sounds like you’re more interested in running a salacious story than in helping the cause, and I think that’s unfortunate.“
The incident of sexual misconduct allegedly took place on Thursday night, August 7, following a gathering of the MPP staff at the Union Pub in Washington, D.C., across the street from the organization’s national office. Within 24 hours, four staff members decided to resign. On Tuesday, August 11, Kampia sent an e-mail to the MPP staff that read, in part, “I'm very sad to let everyone know that we'll be losing four great people over the next couple of weeks… I'm very sorry—both personally and professionally—that they're leaving MPP. Their decisions are due to something that happened outside the office a few days ago involving me… I take this situation very seriously. This is not something that will happen again.”
Over the next two weeks, three more staff members quit, saying that it became obvious Kampia would not suffer any significant repercussions for his actions.
“Rob's initial communication to the staff a few days after the incident made it clear that he considered the matter closed and was planning to continue with business as usual, which I could not live with.” Former Major Gifts Officer Sarah Hench told HT, explaining her decision to resign. “Rob's behavior over the long term was inexcusable and irresponsible, and I am ashamed that I only felt empowered to address it after something very serious and egregious happened. In my opinion, he put the entire organization at risk and made it clear that MPP's mission was not important enough for him to modify his reckless and arrogant behavior.”
According to the official MPP Employee Manual, the organization “may terminate employment at any time,” for any employee, “with or without cause and with or without notice,” a policy that “cannot be changed without the express written consent of the Executive Director.” At the time of the incident in August 2009, MPP had no written policy regarding sexual harassment, despite what several staffers described as a “culture of sexually inappropriate behavior” by Kampia in the years leading up to this incident.
“While the catalyst for my decision to leave MPP after more than three years of employment was a particular act by Rob that I thought was morally reprehensible,” former Legislative Analyst Zane Hurst told HT, “It’s important to understand that Rob acted inappropriately toward MPP employees and interns throughout my time there. I can not in good conscience work for him or the organization as long as he remains its leader.”
According to former and current employees, attempts to bring concerns about Rob’s previous pattern of behavior to upper management proved futile, and in the wake of the August 2009 incident, Kampia focused on maintaining his own position of authority, rather than addressing employees’ concerns.
“Prior to this incident, I had confronted Rob about his advances toward one of my employees,” according to Ms. Pearce. “He dismissed my concerns and refused to stop hitting on his employees. After the incident, and even after nearly 20% of the staff quit in protest, it became apparent that Rob and his second in command, Alison Green, were planning to sweep this all under the rug.”
Eventually, after a resounding vote of no confidence in Kampia’s leadership by the organization’s department heads, the matter reached MPP’s Board of Directors, but it remains unclear what, if any, information they received about Kampia’s role in the original incident, subsequent staff departures, and an institutional attempt to cover it up. More than five months after the incident in question, aside from a promise that Kampia will “obtain remedial sensitivity and behavior modification training,” current and former employees are left to wonder what price, if any, he will pay for behavior several described as “predatory.” One former employee said “sending Rob to sensitivity training is like trying to teach an elephant to tap dance.”
“My decision to leave MPP over the incident involving Rob and a female subordinate in August was painful, but ultimately it was the only choice I felt I could make given a pattern of predatory behavior on Rob's part.” MPP’s former Assistant Director of Communications told HIGH TIMES. “Even seen in the most charitable light, Rob's conduct—in this one instance, as in many other questionable encounters—indicates that he either doesn't understand or he doesn't care how his behavior affects others, especially those he holds authority over as Executive Director of MPP. As long as Rob and his reckless behavior are tolerated, he'll be a burden to his own talented, dedicated staff and a disaster waiting to happen for the marijuana policy reform community as a whole.”
HIGH TIMES’ investigation into this matter is ongoing, and we expect to publish a thorough account of this story in an upcoming issue of the magazine.