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Marijuana legalization backers hand in initiative petitions

January 28, 2010 | 11:19 am

MARIJUANA

Supporters of legalized marijuana announced today that they have gathered about 700,000 signatures for their initiative, virtually guaranteeing voters will see it on the November ballot.

They plan to turn in the petitions today to elections officials in some of the state's major counties, including Los Angeles. Supporters need 433,971 valid signatures to qualify the measure.

The measure’s main proponent, Richard Lee, a highly successful Oakland marijuana entrepreneur, bankrolled a professional signature-gathering effort that was bolstered by volunteers from the state’s hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries.

“This is a historic first step toward ending cannabis prohibition,” Lee said. “I’ve always believed that cannabis should be taxed and regulated and that our current laws aren’t working.”

The initiative, known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, would make it legal for anyone 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow plants in an area no larger than 25 square feet for personal use. It would also allow cities and counties to permit marijuana to be grown and sold, and to impose taxes on marijuana production and sales.

Four marijuana legalization initiatives have been proposed, but Lee’s is the only one that appears to have the financial support to make the ballot.

Lee's firm, one of the state's most successful marijuana businesses, has spent more than $1 million on the measure and hired professional consultants to run the campaign. Lee owns half a dozen mostly pot-related businesses in Oakland, including Coffeeshop Blue Sky, a medical marijuana dispensary, and Oaksterdam University, which offers classes on marijuana.

Polls have shown growing support nationwide for legalization. In California, a majority favors it. A Field Poll taken last April found that 56% of voters in the state and 60% in Los Angeles County want to make pot legal and tax it. That margin, though, is not enough to assure victory.

The political climate has turned conservative in this non-presidential election year. Some prominent marijuana legalization advocates have questioned whether 2010 was the right year to test whether Californians would again break new ground on drug legalization, as they did in 1996 when they approved marijuana for medical use.

If passed, the initiative would put the state in conflict with federal law. The Obama administration last year announced it would not prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries that adhere to California's laws, but it has adamantly opposed efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

-- John Hoeffel

Photo: Howard Dillon, left, unloads boxes of signatures outside the county registrar's office in Norwalk. At right is retired Judge James P. Gray. Dillon delivered 17 boxes holding 143,105 signatures for the marijuana legalization initiative. The boxes were brought inside to be counted. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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