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Proposition 19 campaign will run TV ad in Los Angeles area

October 25, 2010 |  3:57 pm

The campaign to pass Proposition 19, the measure to legalize marijuana in California, will hit television sets in the Los Angeles area Tuesday with a commercial that features retired San Jose Police Chief Joseph D. McNamara endorsing the initiative.

The ad is the first that the Yes on 19 campaign has put on television. Dan Newman, a spokesman, said the campaign will spend $170,000 to run it on cable channels through election day and hopes to raise money to air it more frequently and in other markets.

"We started with a modest buy and are increasing every moment as the supporters chip in to make sure people get the message," he said.

In the 30-second spot, McNamara, wearing a suit jacket and tie, speaks directly to the camera and says his 35 years in law enforcement have convinced him that the war on marijuana has failed.

"Today, it's easier for a teenager to buy pot than beer," he says. "Proposition 19 will tax and control marijuana just like alcohol. It will generate billions of dollars for local communities, allow police to focus on violent crimes and put drug cartels out of business."

The ad scrolls through a list of endorsements from people in law enforcement. "Join me and many others in law enforcement. Vote yes on Proposition 19," McNamara concludes.

In an e-mail to supporters, Richard Lee, the Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur who is the initiative’s main proponent, said the campaign needs to raise $100,000 by Wednesday to keep the ad on the air through Nov. 2, when Californians go to the polls. "You've come through every time in the past, and now I need your support one more time," he wrote.

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the No on 19 campaign, dismissed the amount the campaign is spending on the ad as insignificant. "That’s just throwing money away. That’s fantastic," he said.

But Newman said the campaign wants to reach the narrow slice of voters who have not made up their minds and could make the difference. "Every vote counts," he said. "By all measures, this thing seems to hang in the balance with very few undecided."

The No on 19 campaign is not on the air, but the California Chamber of Commerce is spending $250,000 on radio ads to try to defeat Proposition 19, saying the measure "is worded so broadly that it would hurt California’s economy, raise business costs and make it harder to create jobs." The 60-second ads started Friday in Los Angeles and Saturday in San Diego.

Newman said the campaign chose McNamara, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, to deliver its message because he is a veteran police officer who was both a beat cop in New York City and a police chief in San Jose. "He has impeccable authority and is someone who can speak from firsthand knowledge," he said.

The Yes on 19 campaign touts endorsements from the National Black Police Assn. and 48 law enforcement veterans, most of them retired. Salazar noted that every California law enforcement organization that has gotten involved in the issue has endorsed the No on 19 campaign, which has raised much of its money from these same organizations.

Newman said Los Angeles area viewers would be able to see the ad on a number of cable networks, including CNN, CNBC, Headline News and MSNBC. More than a quarter of the state's voters live in Los Angeles County.

Proposition 19 would allow adults 21 and older to devote up to 25 square feet of space to growing marijuana and possess up to an ounce of it; let cities and counties decide whether to authorize commercial cultivation and retail sales; and impose taxes.

Salazar took issue with the ad, saying Proposition 19 would not control marijuana like alcohol, which is subject to state regulation. He also said there are no estimates that show the initiative could raise billions of dollars n taxes and no experts who say it would put drug cartels out of business.

Newman compared the measure to the repeal of alcohol prohibition, which led to new tax revenue and sidelined drug-running gangs. "You no longer see beer cartels sneaking over the border with six packs or shoot-outs in Napa Valley over the grape harvest," he said.

He said the exact amount of taxes the measure might raise is irrevelant. "The only question is whether Prop. 19 would generate massive or merely extremely significant revenue," he said.

-- John Hoeffel