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Will Tech Investor Sean Parker Start Yet Another California Marijuana Legalization Initiative?

sean parker california marijuana

(image via Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks after the 2014 Election, during which Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. voted to legalize marijuana, all eyes turned to California. California is, and has always been, the ‘top prize’ for marijuana reform efforts. It’s estimated that almost half of the marijuana industry in America is located in California. Think about that for a minute. The marijuana industry is MASSIVE, and getting bigger everyday, and half of that industry is located in one state.

I wrote an article titled ‘What Will It Take To Legalize Marijuana In California In 2016?’ on November 23, 2014. In that article, and in many articles since then, I have said that California needs four things to happen in order to win on Election Day 2016:

A united activism base

California has been heavily fractured since the failed 2010 Prop 19 effort. Every election cycle there are a handful of initiatives, none of which make the ballot. If they all united, it would dramatically increase the chances of getting on the ballot and winning on Election Day 2016.

Lots and lots of money

If you look at how much other states have paid to run successful legalization initiatives in the past, and compare those states’ population sizes, number of media markets, and the cost to run political ads in those markets, you see very quickly that a successful campaign in California will cost roughly 20 million dollars. I have talked with former campaign staffers from states that have legalized, and they all offer up that figure. Politics isn’t cheap, especially in California

A well written, heavily vetted initiative

This is one that a lot of people get hung up on. People think that I don’t like this initiative or that initiative, when in actuality that’s not the case. It’s not that I don’t like particular initiatives, I’m just a realist. I have a degree in public policy, I have studied politics extensively, and if there’s one thing that I know it’s that marijuana will not be regulated like tomatoes anytime soon. I wish that was not the case, but reality is reality. An initiative has to be drafted, edited, updated, and re-written again and again. All the while it needs to be polled to gauge it’s chances of success.

A very strong, experienced campaign team

Marijuana politics is different in subtle ways compared to other political movements. It takes a very savvy team to be able to navigate the rough campaign waters, to handle all of the illogical attacks from marijuana opponents, and to craft a message that resonates with voters. Legalizing marijuana requires changing minds, and not every political strategist knows how to do that. It’s more than just putting up billboards and TV ads with generic info. Reefer madness has ingrained some pretty horrible stereotypes in citizen’s minds, especially older citizens. It takes a powerful message that they can relate directly to in order to get some voters on the right side of history.


That of course is a simplified version of what it will take to legalize marijuana in California in 2016, but I strongly feel that if any one of those elements is missing, any campaign in California will be doomed. And I honestly think that while there will be more elections obviously in California’s future, the 2016 Election is by far the best opportunity for California to do this. That’s why I’ve been harping so much on this blog about the need to unite. Everything else flows out of that unity.

That’s why I was a bit saddened when I read an article on BuzzFeed that Napster co-founder, and early Facebook investor, Sean Parker is rumored to be starting yet another legalization initiative. I was hoping that people with his resources would unite behind ReformCA, which in most marijuana political strategists’ opinions has the best chance of victory in 2016. I would argue that even if Sean Parker and other billionaires lined up behind ReformCA, it would still be far from a guaranteed victory. If Parker and his team run yet another initiative, my fear is that it will doom not only it’s own chances of victory, but also that of ReformCA.

With that being said, I’ll obviously do what I can to support any initiative in California that makes the ballot. If California fails to win on Election Day 2016, it will make the election bittersweet for me personally, and I’m sure most other activists, even if many other states vote to legalize. California is the biggest domino in this thing, and if it falls, it will speed up momentum in virtually every other state in America. However if that domino doesn’t fall in 2016, it could slow down momentum in other states at the least.

I don’t know that there are bigger Sean Parker fans on this planet than Jay Smoker and I (founders of this blog). I can honestly say that I have seen the move The Social Network over 1,000 times. I went through a painful life change in 2011 which resulted in my moving into a place by myself. I was completely broke at the time and did this blog to help pass the time while I put my life back together. I didn’t have cable, and the only DVD that I owned was The Social Network. I watched it over, and over, and over. Sometimes 6-7 times a day. It bordered on unhealthy some people would say lol.

That movie, and specifically the things that Sean Parker’s character (played by Justin Timberlake) said in the movie, has had more influence on The Weed Blog and how Jay Smoker and I approach things, than probably any other thing on the planet. Sean Parker mentored the founders of Facebook, and explained to them all of the pitfalls and issues that he faced when he was doing his thing with Napster. ‘They don’t want you, they just want your idea’ is something that Jay Smoker and I have had to deal with more than anyone could every imagine while running this blog. Had it not been for those wise words by Sean Parker (in the movie, not sure if he said it in real life!), I can honestly say that The Weed Blog would not be here today.

Below are some excerpts from the BuzzFeed article I linked to above:

Billionaire and early Facebook investor Sean Parker may be gearing up to lead a campaign to legalize the adult use of pot in California. According to six sources well-placed in the legalization movement, after months of talks among weed reformers, Parker and several associates have decided to draft and back their own initiative for the 2016 ballot.

Multiple industry sources with knowledge of the Parker campaign told BuzzFeed News that two other wealthy backers were interested in the draft initiative he is preparing. One is Justin Hartfield, founder and CEO of Weedmaps, the Yelp for pot shops, who has already made public his intent to commit $2 million toward California weed legalization.

The other interested backer is Silicon Valley investor Joby Pritzker, whose family founded the Hyatt hotel chain. Pritzker too has made no secret of his interest in legalizing the drug: He’s invested in pot companies and has sat on the board of the Marijuana Policy Project for six years. It’s unclear how much cash Pritzker has agreed to put up, but two sources told BuzzFeed News that anyone interested in influencing the draft and campaign has to pony up at least $1 million to get a seat at the table. That’s not surprising: If 2010’s Prop 19 — which failed narrowly despite a $4.5 million support coalition — taught the movement anything, it’s that a campaign to legalize weed will almost certainly be expensive.

I have read a lot of articles that state that Sean Parker heavily funded the successful Oregon marijuana legalization initiative. This BuzzFeed article states that he donated $2 million dollars. The odd thing about that is that I know the people behind the Oregon campaign, and not one of them is familiar with anything like that. So I don’t know exactly how that rumor caught on, but if Sean Parker donated to the Oregon campaign, it wasn’t enough to be on anyone’s radar on the New Approach Oregon finance team that I’ve talked to. Mr. Parker – if you donated to the Oregon campaign, please accept my sincere thank you. But if you didn’t, please clear the air on this.

I’m obviously excited to hear about billionaires and millionaires funding marijuana political efforts. However, I don’t like when I hear about those same people deciding to ‘go it on their own’ instead of getting behind something that has already done a lot of leg work. The desire to re-invent the wheel is something that has doomed so many reform efforts throughout the years, and it rarely (if ever) works. This will definitely be a unique case due to the amount of resources at Sean Parker and others’ disposal, but I just really hope that it doesn’t result in a repeat of what’s been happening in California since 2010 – multiple initiatives, fractured base, and a lack of marijuana legalization presence on the ballot on Election Day.

What do TWB readers think? Are you excited to read about Sean Parker and others drafting their own initiative? Why or why not? Do you think that they should get behind ReformCA, or another California initiative? Why or why not? I hope that everyone realizes that I’m not trying to be negative, I just want California to finally legalize, which is way, way overdue. California was a leader on marijuana policy for so long, and California residents deserve to live in a state that allows a recreational industry to thrive.


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Johnny Green


  1. Michael Jolson on

    Letitia Pepper has some early reviews of Reform CA recent filing of their Initiative with the Attorney General:
    ” In an earlier e-mailed “News from the [Marijuana] Initiative Front,” I noted that some concerned readers had contacted me to say that the CAReform initiative contains a “snitch clause,” one rewards people for turning in people who break any of the new laws’ provisions with a percentage of the money the government recovers.
    In fact, there is such a provision. It’s part of a system that allows ANYONE who lives in the same jurisdiction to sue ANYONE in that jurisdiction for ANY violation of the Act. So, for example, if you exceed a limit on what you are allowed to possess or cultivate, anyone who discovers this fact can sue you. Yippee! More work for lawyers! Because the person sued will be required to pay the court costs and attorney’s fees of the person who decided to sue them!
    But there’s ALSO a snitch reward provision — if you sue someone breaking these proposed new laws, you get to keep 10 percent of any money recovered — in addition to your court costs and attorney fees..
    This initiative also sets up an “Office of Cannabis Regulation, ” which has the power to sue (and to be sued). It could be teh entity that sues you, too. And the initiative also sets up punishments and fines for violating all the new regulations it seeks to impose — including the provision that a person, withjout a license to grow, can only grow 100 square feet — that’s an area that’s 10 feet by 10 feet for your personal use. Is tehre any exemption for a patient who needs to grow more than can be grown in that space? No, there is not.

    To see all this for yourself, go to https://www.oag.ca.gov/system/files/initiatives/pdfs/15-0075%20%28Marijuana%29.pdf?.
    Here, for a start, is the secion on the “snitch reward” and right to sue and get attorney’s fees, copied and pasted:
    “26045. (a) Any person residing in the jurisdiction may sue for injunctive relief to enjoin violations or to compel
    compliance with the provisions of this Act. The court may award to a plaintiff or defendant who prevails the
    costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees.
    (b) No criminal action alleging a violation of this Act may be filed against a person pursuant to this section if
    the office is prosecuting a civil action against that person for violations that flowed from the conduct alleged in
    the civil action.
    (c) No civil action may be pursued under this section for any violations of this Act after the office has issued an
    order pursuant to Section 26042 against that person for the same violation.

    26046. (a) In determining the amount of liability in accordance with the Act, the court may take into account the
    seriousness of the violation and the degree of culpability of the defendant. If a judgment is entered against the
    defendant or defendants in an action brought under Section 26045, the plaintiff shall receive ten percent (10%)
    of the amount recovered. The remaining ninety percent (90%) shall be deposited in the Cannabis Safety Fund.
    In a criminal action brought by the district attorney or city attorney pursuant to Section 26045, the entire
    amount recovered shall be paid to the general fund or treasury of the jurisdiction. In an action brought by the
    office, the entire amount recovered shall be paid to the Cannabis Safety Fund.

    More to come — and ti ain’t pretty!”

  2. Haywood Jeblowme on

    There’s no “cash” involved in an abatement action – which is all that would be. Furthermore, all the regular protections we have (such as requirements for a warrant) will be in play. Stick to the 10×10 without whining for a few years and let things mellow out. It will be like tomatoes soon enough.
    I’m also going to say that my 20+ years of involvement in the criminal justice system renders my legal opinions a bit more solid than poorly-reasoned paranoia.

  3. Michael Jolson on

    You are 100% wrong- this Init will create more cannabis prisoners with the new revenue from recreational pot sales and encourages snitches who are rewarded 10% of the cash brought in by non compliant growers- those growing bigger than a 10 by 10.
    It will bolster more arrests for those that don’t comply. Moreover, DPA and MPP pulled out of this collation ? Hardly anyone is left.

  4. Haywood Jeblowme on

    Oh, I see.. You’re actually a two-year-old who cant have a rational conversation and degenerates into personal attacks and hyperole when challenged intellectually. The fines are pretty low, and civil acyions block all criminal actions by cops and DA. Nobody is going to bother personal growers over this crap, and if they do, it will take years to get through a case for almost no benefit. I fully support private attorney general actions against commercial growers in this industry, and in all others (see Code fo Civil Procedure section 1021.5, and Labor Code sections 2698, et seq [PAGA]). Also, there’s no mandatory sentences of any sort, but I do support the idea that people over 21 shouldnt give booze to underage folks too.
    Tell you what; go finish your remedial reading course, then go over it again.

  5. Michael Jolson on

    Haywood you need to pull your head out then. You are no fiend of Cannabis if you support encouraging snitching and getting a 10% reward for it. You support snitches? You support an Init that rewards and encourages snitches?
    You all are a pathetic buxh- Johhny Green included! You all are supporting SNITCHING- NOT GOOD

  6. Haywood Jeblowme on

    Which is exactly why HELL NO is appropriate. You should try living in a backwoods, inbred hick County (think Del Norte or Siskiyou) and see how you like those provisions! Any initiative that doesnt kill the local ability to ban grows is a non-starter, simply because it doesnt actually “legalize”.

  7. OK, I’ll agree that cannabis will not be regulated like tomatoes any time soon. Fine. But why can’t cannabis be regulated like wine and the wine grape industry?

  8. Haywood Jeblowme on

    Well, Michael, I’ve been working against the drug war, and to legalize MJ for 35+ years. I am also a paralegal with decades of experience reading such things; it looks great to me, and will be getting my vote and encouragement. You need to remember something; it isn’t just the “pro pot” folks who will be voting on this, so an initiative needs to be palatable to the general population. Also, this has nothing to do with the medical side, and will not interfere with that angle of attack.

  9. Haywood Jeblowme on

    The main problem will still be the growers and medical storefronts – they dont want you growing your own, or being able to cross from another state into CA with weed as it wil cut their profits. Also, the old, fat, white guy on the CA Supreme Ct who was the deciding vote to NOT take the Live Oak decision is now gone (retired), but his deviltry remains in the form of a mass of bans on cultivation in the form of “zoning”. That means more people are pissed off at their local government,a nd are likely to vote for legalization this time around.

  10. Joe Hemp…I am a policy Advisor to MCLR, 1) MCLR allows you to grow as much as you need based on neighborhood standards, those are determined by your neighbors and the families affected by your crop in your back yard, 2) MCLR requires you to grow in a way that prevents people from viewing it from the street, and the fence must be minimum 6 feet tall and not transparent. 3) Local Governments cannot ban medical outlets, collectives and co-ops are restored to prop 215 original non profit tax free medical sales. 4) Only the Voters can implement or authorize a Ban on Recreational Outlets in a city over 10,000 residents. 5) MCLR is the only initiative that has unlimited licenses for small mom and pop cannabis businesses who make less than 500,000 a year.

  11. Who the hell am I kidding? 100 sq feet doth not make a farmer. I am and will be Chance the gardener.

  12. Brown just signed the statutory framework into law!! If ReformCa’s initiative comports within its four corners, and I get my 100 sq feet, I’m a happy farmer. The mass of SPECIAL INTERESTS that all had a whack at the final set of laws (Christ even the Teamsters got fed at the trough!) will not support an initiative that strays from their efforts. I’ve worked inside of the belly of this beast and it’s much worse and putrid than sausage they put out. Nonetheless, when you see the spectrum of PLAYERS in support, it’s a damn miracle to get all on the same page. I support the statutes and I support ReformCA. Get it done.

  13. “Cannabis felines” ?! OH NOES !!!

    Ours is enough trouble when he gets into the ‘nip …

  14. Anyone who wants to see legalization move forward in California in 2016 should support the ReformCA initiative. The ReformCa initiative is the only offering that has the potential to actually succeed in 2016.

    The ReformCA initiative is not 100% exactly what any of us wants, but it’s the closest we are going to get for the 2016 election year and the reality is that “close” needs to be good enough. In politics, if you allow “perfect” to become the enemy of “good” you will never get anything accomplished.

    Back the ReformCA proposal, and dissuade others from diluting the momentum by offering competing initiatives.

    “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.

  15. A quote from the text of the MCLR measure regarding personal cultivation: “The measure authorizes the commission or local neighborhoods to limit the amount that could be cultivated.”

    That’s a deal-killer for me because it allows local governments to enact bans, which in turn leaves the supply (and the price) in the hands of the commercial growers/distributors/retailers.
    No way will I vote for it.

  16. Michael Jolson on

    This is a typical out of state political theory being superimposed on us at here in California. Have you actually read the text of Refrom CA ? Do you understand it contains a clause to snitch and collect 10% of the money confiscated ? Good God why does your blog support this? Why do you support an Init that ads cannabis felines when there were none before? Why support an Init that locks up 18-20 years for smoking with 17 year okds and going to jail for up to one year ?
    Why support this lame bill that states your go to jail for up to 6 months for over a pound?
    Why do you cove the California Cannabis Hemp Init?
    Your blog seems to be the Corporate Pot blog from hell. This yuppie you write about can file his own lame ass yuppie pot gentrification petition and we will vote no on it as well if it sucks and we will tell everyone else to vote no!
    Why has your blog swung so far to the right? Why don’t you write about other grassroots initiatives in California?
    Your journalism is disgusting and you are encouraging a SNITCH INITIATIVE! Wake Up or do you supoort SNITCHING Jonny Green?

  17. There is still time for him or Bill Gates or anyone to donate… http://www.dankweed.com
    I don’t think we should tax anyone on anything grown personally but there could be a sales tax for licensed marijuana businesses that operate as a storefront. It will be a challenge to get signatures for anything unless you have a big stand up sign with a pot leaf shouting “Legalize Marijuana! Sign here and register to vote!”. Here in my city I saw a signature gatherer for increasing the minimum wage. People just ignored her and kept on walking by…

  18. We don’t have a public policy degree, but we have to respectfully disagree with one point: “Legalizing marijuana requires changing minds”.

    This assumption is based on the premise that either there’s a significant number of people who are “undecided” on the issue, or a like number who are opposed, but not so strongly that they can’t be “converted” (by advertising, etc); yet cannabis use, even medical, is a hot button subject much like abortion in that most people already have a *very* staunch, if not passionate opinion, one way or the other, based at least as much on personal beliefs and emotion as science or logic. Spending all the money in the world to “educate and inform” won’t change those minds; they are already made up and essentially closed to opposing views.

    What recent election cycles have demonstrated conclusively, on the other hand, is that victory comes not from “winning (or changing) hearts and minds”, but from: 1) Identifying, demographically, which voters are most likely to hold views favorable to the issue (or candidate), and 2) Making sure those voters go to the polls on election day; neither of those tasks necessarily require multi-million dollar media buys.

  19. jimbolandjots on

    When Big Corp backers push to legalize something, they only have profit as their motive. A marijuana legalization proposition has been filed for 2016 and it has the backing of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (who chair the blue-ribbon panel that diligently worked to make the proposition reflect California’s progressive values), LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), and many participants from the marijuana farming sector.

  20. My grave concern is that California will follow the byzantine models already in-place in Colorado and Washington. With legalization comes a lowering of jurisdictional oversight – something most in law enforcement will actually welcome. Those venues seeking to sell will be faced with all manner of fees, taxes and oversight by mindless, officious bureaucrats. Accordingly, retail prices will be quite high and the personal grow-use cohort will spiral ever upward (hey, this isn’t Colorado…cannabis is a weed that thrives about anywhere in the state). Responsibility and integrity are not our current society’s long suits.

    That being said, I’m a strong proponent of medical use under professional supervision within a normalized standard of care. Unfortunately, even here, the Cheech & Chong crowd has donned ill-fitting shirts and ties in order to induce patients toward their products. Clinically, the smoked/vaped/edible products are off the mark as poorly efficient delivery models with non-standardized therapeutic value. In short, it’s still the wild west for far too many ill-informed patients, navigating blindly among dubious dispensaries, shamans and kooks. At the other extreme there are pharmaceutical companies with budgets and influence; their brace of litigators,just salivating for the chance to stake a vast claim on the medical front. Slowly, steadily, they have articulated their clinical trials among an array of chronic indications in order to gain FDA approvals for both plant and synthetic cannabis drug actives.

    Hold on! It’s going to be an exhilarating ride!

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