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Initiative to legalize marijuana qualifies for November ballot


State election officials announced Wednesday that an initiative to legalize marijuana will be on the November ballot, triggering what will likely be an expensive, divisive and much-watched campaign to decide whether California will again lead the nation in softening drug laws.

Los Angeles County election officials Wednesday turned in their official estimate of the number of valid signatures, putting the statewide figure above the 433,971 needed for the measure to make the ballot. The county, where one-fifth of the signatures were collected, was the last to report its count, filing just before 5 p.m.

Polls have indicated that a majority of voters in California want marijuana legalized, but the margin is not enough to ensure the initiative will win. Two years ago, opponents defeated an attempt to relax the state's drug laws despite being outspent. "It's always easier for people to say no than to say yes for an initiative," said Mark Baldassare, the pollster for the Public Policy Institute of California. "Generally, all it takes is for people to find one reason to say no."

The initiative would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce for personal use. Possession of an ounce or less has been a misdemeanor with a $100 fine since 1975, when Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who was then governor, signed a law that reduced tough marijuana penalties that had allowed judges to impose 10-year sentences. Legalization supporters note that misdemeanor arrests have risen dramatically in California in the last two decades. The initiative would also allow adults to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana per residence or parcel.

But the measure, known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, goes further, allowing cities and counties to adopt ordinances that would authorize the cultivation, transportation and sale of marijuana, which could be taxed to raise revenues. It's this feature of the initiative that supporters hope will draw support from voters who are watching their local governments jettison employees and programs in the midst of a severe budget crisis.

The measure's main proponent, Richard Lee, savored the chance to press his case that the nation's decades-old ban on marijuana is a failed policy. "We're one step close to ending cannabis prohibition and the unjust laws that lock people up for cannabis while alcohol is not only sold openly but advertised on television to kids every day," he said. He said the measure would allow police to focus on serious crime, undercut Mexican drug cartels and make it harder for teenagers to buy marijuana.

Lee, who owns several marijuana businesses in Oakland, has already spent at least $1.3 million on the campaign, primarily on a professional signature-gathering operation. He has also recruited a team of accomplished political advisors, including Chris Lehane, a veteran operative who has worked in the White House and on presidential campaigns.

"There's all kind of big professional politicos who are coming on board now to take it to the next level," he said.

Lee has said that he hopes to raise as much as $20 million for the campaign, 10 times the amount that proponents spent in 1996 to pass Proposition 215, the state's medical marijuana initiative.

Opponents have also begun organizing. "There's going to be a very broad coalition opposing this that will include law enforcement," promised John Lovell, a Sacramento lobbyist who represents several law enforcement organizations. "We'll educate people as to what this measure really entails." Lovell said legalizing marijuana would lead to increased use, cause the same kind of social ills as alcohol and tobacco, and put more demands on law enforcement.

-- John Hoeffel

Photo: L.A. Times file

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Comments () | Archives (58)

Just tell me the Prop. #. I am ready to vote "No." We already have a number of mind-altering substances in our midst! The electorate is decidedly more conservative in non-Presidential vote years, so instead of a close call, I'll go out on a limb and predict: 46% for legalization and 54% against. The thin blue line between madness and normalcy continues to glow in California...

Finally - now let's get out the vote and get this thing done!

Two words: Al Capone

Prohibition empowers criminals, and encarserates the innocent. By God, it's 2010, and people are actually debating whether a harmless plant should be legal?

Meanwhile, the U.S., China and Russia have tested thousands of nuclear weapons, and sold millions of guns and ammunition to terrorist.

This is not a moral battle, it is an economic battle.

All I got to say is OH YEAH!

It's about time that prohibition gets ended. It's a plant that causes far fewer social ills than alcohol and far fewer health risks than tobacco.

Let's make this happen people!

its about time

as a native new yorker, perhaps i should not be commenting on a 'california' matter, but controlled legalization of most drugs would take away the profit which is driving the latin american drug wars and fueling the two west asian wars we are involved in.

mexico, colombia, afghanistan, iraq and pakistan would be safer for all their citizens, too.

managed drug access here would wipe out the narc, court and jail problems here in the states, too, and free up funds for health care and lots of other needed programs.

It is time to legalize it, tax it and regulate it. Not only will legalizing it increase our tax revenue it would decrease our local, county and state Law Enforcement expense. It would also reduce case loads from the probation departments and court cases. We will also see less overcrowding in our jails and prison. The police would have more time to pursue hard drugs that the majority of consumers of cannabis do not use. Plus, we will be taking the profits away from the street gangs and the Mexican drug cartels. Vote YES to end the prohibition of Cannabis and Hemp.

Why is hemp illegal?

It's is high time (no pun intended) that our government treats us like adults instead of children. If someone chooses to smoke marijuana at the end of a day rather than have a beer or cocktail, then let them. Period.

Millions of Americans already do so, making marijuana the largest cash crop in the country. The only problem now, is that crop is unregulated and not taxed. California and the rest of the country is throwing millions, if not billions, of dollars, down the drain by ignoring this huge source of revenue. Add to this the millions of dollars spent enforcing archaic marijuana prohibition laws, and the ridiculous starts to become insane.

Hopefully the California voters will pass this law in November.

This initiative is going to lose. The swing voters are women in their 30s and 40s with children. When they find out that this initiative allows pot dealers to open marijuana stores right next to schools, playgrounds, churches and synagogues, they will swing right away from it. If the initiative backers had just focused on decriminalizing marijuana use in people's own homes, they would have had a much better chance. But, this initiative is sponsored by pot dealers - and for pot dealers. When people hear about that, it's going down.

Let's set the standard for which all states should follow. Time to register to vote people...

John Lovell, a Sacramento lobby for law enforcement states in this article that the upcoming marijuana initative would result in putting more demands on law enforcement when just the opposite would appear to be true. WIth over 800,000 arrests in the USA for pot(mostly simple possession) annually, the reality is that cops would have much more time and resources to pursue more serious crime. It's the taking away of their power to confiscate property, pot and cash that is their real objection.

The prohibitionists make all kinds of dismissive statements that offer no explaination for the reasoning behind their claims and the media, particularly the LA Times allows these prohibitionists to make their false arguments without questioning them. As this initative moves forward, I hope those who care about having an open and honest debate on pot legalization will point out every occasion when the media exhibits this brand of lazy one sided journalism.

For over 40 years, The failures of the drug war have been under reported or ignored by the print and TV media. Old habits are hard to break.

It's about time.

It's about time this subject was addressed in an adult fashion. Yes, why not legalize marijuana and tax it? I'd rather that than increased furloughs for government employees and decreased public services.
Plus it would steal the thunder from the Mexican drug cartels, who've been getting a bit out of hand lately. As long as marijuana is regulated in a responsible manner, I don't foresee a problem. In fact, I think we may have fewer alcoholics!

You go California. Tax anything and everything. Hey, is free thinking, next?

Should reduce costs to the government while raising revenue.

Why does the person have to be 21? Why can't it be 18? If you're 18 and voting for it? Shouldn't you be effected from it as soon as it's law?

Almost makes me want to go to church and thank God for allowing us to have the upcoming freedom to accept God's Green Earth.

Legalizing cannabis sativa would be better for society in the long run as it is a waste of money and resources fighting such a benign drug compared to what's out there, that people are using for recreational drugs. Drug dealers who sell pot in a lot of cases also sell many other drugs that are far more dangerous and they don't care if they kill, addict or destroy lives as long as they make money. Legalizing pot would eliminate most users from being introduced to these other dangerous drugs and those that sell them, which would be a benefit to society as resources could be better used to concentrate on targeting the use and selling of these drugs that cause the most damage to us.

This is going to be fun to watch. The anti-pot scare tactics are going to be sooo funny.

Hope this measure passes its time to legalize pot.I hope everybody gets out there and votes yes to legalization of marijuana.

good, they need to legalize it! i dont smoke but i still see all our tax dollars at waste to stop something harmeless! and yes in my eyes its harmless, just as alchol is harmless until someone become iresponsible! dont blame the substance, blame the user! if someone gets drunk and stays home, alcohol is harmless, but if that person decides to drive to the store to get more alchol, then its harmful even if the person doesnt crash, in the same way that if someone got high, stayed home and went to sleep, how is it harming anyone? people just need to relax and realize all that marijuana isnt the devil, doesnt make people got out an commite crimes and murders, and that if its legalized that the drug cartels will win! if its legalized, sold taxed and regulated in the ciggs and alcohol is controled, then how will drug dealers profit...

Cannabis will not cause the same problems as alcohol: when it comes to violence there is simply no comparison between the two substances. And cannabis black market related violence is not caused by cannabis, it is caused by prohibition, which inevitably spawns a black market. The police have no answer to what is happening in places like Mexico except for more of the same.
It's amazing that people can think it's practical to carry on the war against marijuana users when close to half the country wants to see it legal, when virtually no one claims it is more dangerous than alcohol, when every serious person should know that it's far less dangerous to life and limb than alcohol, and especially now that public finances have collapsed so disastrously.

"We'll educate people as to what this measure really entails."

They going to have to lie, exaggerate and fear monger in oder to have anything to say. There is simply no good or truly compelling reason for cannabis to be illegal. Actually Law Enforcement groups should be precluded from engaging campaigning against this. They better not be using any public money or on duty time to do it either.

They cannot claim to know what will happen with use. No one really knows what use really is now. So what if it does go up in use, it is not dangerous. It is even less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. They cannot claim that what we now do works well or even works at all. They've had it their way and it's clearly
bad policy that failed, how are they going to lie about that?

Legal cannabis will remove demands from law enforcement not add to them.
Legal cannabis will end profits for criminal gangs.
Legal cannabis will allow for better control by limiting access to minors.
Legal cannabis is reasonable and fair for adult use.
Legal cannabis will reduce demands on the courts and criminal justice system.
Legal cannabis will end destructive invasions of public lands.
Legal cannabis will generate tax revenue.
The list goes on.

California is desperate need of money. So it my pass just because of that.

California is in desperate need of money, this might be passed. Since health care was pass why wouldn't this is be passed.

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