Marijuana legalization initiative headed for 2010 ballot, organizers say
Supporters of an initiative that would legalize marijuana in California say they have collected enough signatures to ensure that it will be on the November 2010 ballot.
The petition drive, which was run by a professional signature-gathering firm, collected more than 680,000 signatures, 57% more than the 433,971 valid signatures needed to put it on the ballot, said Richard Lee, the measure's main proponent.
"It was so easy to get them," Lee said. "People were so eager to sign."
The initiative would also allow cities and counties to adopt their own laws to allow marijuana to be grown and sold, and the localities could impose taxes on any aspect of marijuana production and sales. It would make it legal for adults over 21 years old to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow it in a 25-square-foot area for personal use.
It is one of four initiatives circulating that aim to legalize marijuana use.
Lee, who owns Coffeeshop Blue Sky, Oaksterdam University and other pot-related businesses, said he has spent at least $1.1 million so far to put the measure before California voters. He said he expects the campaign to cost between $7 million and $20 million, depending on how much opponents spend. He said he hopes to raise most of that from marijuana legalization supporters across the country and he has already set up an Internet fundraising operation.
"We feel like we've done our part," he said.
Polls have shown that a majority of California voters support legalization. A Field Poll taken in mid-April found that 56% of voters in the state and 60% in Los Angeles County want to make legalize and tax pot as a way to help solve the state's fiscal crisis. In October, a poll taken by a nonpartisan firm for the Marijuana Policy Project found 54% support in the county.
A poll taken for the initiative's proponents by EMC Research, an opinion research firm in Seattle, found that 51% of likely voters supported it based on language similar to what will be on the ballot, but support increased to 54% when they were read a more general synopsis.
Some marijuana legalization advocates initially criticized Lee for moving forward with his measure, arguing that they would have a better chance in 2012, a presidential election year.
"I think things have turned our way so much that we have a good chance of winning without having to wait to 2012," Lee said. "This is the time to bring up the issue and talk about it. Who knows what will be going on in 2012?"
Lee said that the increasing acceptance of medical marijuana has changed the political dynamic. Since the Obama administration announced it would not prosecute medical marijuana providers or users who follow state law, hundreds of dispensaries have opened in California.
"Medical marijuana in California has been accepted as legalization in some ways by a lot of the population," he said, noting the widespread awareness that it is easy to get a doctor's recommendation to use it. "To me this is codifying what it happening."
Lee said he did not think that the backlash against dispensaries, which in many cases have flouted local laws by opening in neighborhoods, would have much effect on his campaign. "It's tough to say whether it's more good or bad," he said. "On one hand, you have your bad apples, on the other hand, it shows the need for better regulation."
-- John Hoeffel
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