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

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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.

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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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