Lee is seen as the force behind the ballot initiative to let people 21 and older grow and possess marijuana and allow local governments to permit retail sales and collect taxes. Supporters said Lee decided to push the measure even though veteran activists urged him to wait until 2012. Lee has said the recession made his tax-and-regulate message all the more relevant.
"I've always thought since I grew up in the 70s that cannabis prohibition is unjust and hypocritical," Lee, 47, told ABC News earlier this year.
Oakland's Oaksterdam University, which Lee founded three years ago, is the centerpiece of a small marijuana business empire that brings in as much as $7 million a year. The university, which has grown to three campuses in California and one in Michigan, has given his cause a platform.
The school, which boasts that it provides "quality training for the cannabis industry" and teaches more than 4,000 people a year, along with Lee's other businesses, have helped revitalize part of downtown Oakland and turned the city into something of an unofficial capital of the legalization movement.
"The bad economy has definitely helped us out a lot as far as opening up a lot of people's minds to seeing that this is a waste of money and that we need to use our public funds better and tax these people," Lee told ABC News.
Taxing marijuana sales could generate $1.4 billion in revenue for California every year, and save the state millions of dollars more in enforcement costs, according to advocates.
Lee's path as a marijuana mogul started after his disabling back injury. In 1990, on tour as a lighting technician for Aerosmith, Lee fell and suffered a severe spinal injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Lee moved to California from Texas in 1997, one year after California became the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana. He started his own marijuana growing operation in a warehouse near the Oakland Coliseum.
Earlier this year, Lee told ABC News that he hoped to raised $20 million for the campaign, but the money didn't materialize. Two of Facebook's co-founders, Sean Parker and Dustin Moskovitz, reportedly donated $100,000 and $70,000, respectively. Billionaire Progressive Insurance Chairman Peter Lewis gave $59,500, and television producer Kevin Bright donated $77,000.
"The endorsements that were most important were not so much the individuals but more the California Chapter of the NAACP, the Black and Latino police organization and some of the labor unions," Nadelmann said. "To the extent that there were any endorsements that moved the public in a positive direction on Prop. 19, it was those endorsements."
But opponents remain undaunted. Salazar said Prop. 19 had done little to advance the legalization question.
"The discussion of the legalization of marijuana at a national level is not a new one and Prop. 19 didn't elevate or lower it, it just continued it," he said.