How a Silicon Valley billionaire helped get marijuana fully legalized in California

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Californians overwhelmingly said yes to recreational marijuana on Election Day.

Those in favor of the decision owe a big thanks to billionaire Silicon Valley fixture Sean Parker.

The former Facebook president and founder of Napster contributed $8.5 million to the effort to legalize recreational marijuana in California.

Parker has been radio silent regarding Proposition 64, though his dollars said otherwise.

“If you wanted to invent the perfect funder for a California ballot measure, it would be hard to dream up one better than Sean Parker,” Jason Kinney, a spokesperson for the Proposition 64 campaign, told Business Insider. “He did this for social justice, not the personal spotlight.”

Over the last year, Parker became the single biggest donor of the initiative, by far, according to The Los Angeles Times. Another $4 million came from a nonprofit called the Fund for Policy Reform, which is backed by New York hedge fund billionaire George Soros.

All said, Proposition 64 raised close to $16 million, about four times the amount spent on a failed effort to legalize recreational weed in California in 2010. That money helped fund campaign literature and postage, fundraising events, polling and survey research, and professional services such as legal and accounting, according to campaign finance filings.

The winning bill, which comes 20 years after California legalized medical marijuana, will allow adults ages 21 and over to use, possess, and transport up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes. People can also grow six plants each at home.

The bill imposes a 15% tax on sales of the drug, generating up to $1 billion in new tax revenue annually, according to the Yes on Prop 64 campaign website.

Sean Parker stands alongside Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and rapper Snoop Dogg at an event in 2011.Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty

Proposition 64 first got its nickname — “The Parker Initiative” — in fall 2015 when Parker’s first contribution became known. The campaign claims Parker had no hand in crafting the specifics or language of the bill, though he expected a “professional and ethical campaign.”

“From the outset, he made it clear that he would be supportive but that he wanted the policy experts to write the best policy and the political professionals to run the best campaign,” Kinney said. “And that’s exactly what we did.”

This isn’t the first time Parker threw his name or money behind an effort to end the prohibition on pot. He gave $100,000 to the unsuccessful California initiative from 2010 and also contributed $2 million for recreational marijuana in Oregon.

Parker was also a general partner at Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, which has invested heavily in legal marijuana. The media has suggested Parker’s role meant he had material gains to make from the success of Proposition 64; however, Parker left Founders Fund in 2015, a year before the firm led a $75 million round for marijuana-focused equity firm Privateer Holdings.

Even in the days leading up to the election, Parker has kept quiet on the bill. Representatives for Parker did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Still, his name often makes the headline of news stories about legalization in California.

Kinney said the so-called Parker Initiative actually has little to do with the tech tycoon.

“This was never about him. It was about the thousands of lives shattered and the billions of taxpayers dollars squandered by a failed war on marijuana,” Kinney said. “He didn’t want to be a distraction. He wanted the focus where it belongs — on the measure itself.”

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