Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Possible legalization of Marijuana in California

Measure to legalize pot may be on California's November ballot

Supporters say they have enough signatures -- about 57% more than the
required 433,971 -- on a petition to qualify for the ballot. Polls have
shown support for legalization among state voters.

By John Hoeffel
December 15, 2009

California voters could decide whether to legalize marijuana in November
after supporters announced Monday that they have more than enough
signatures to ensure that it qualifies for the ballot.

The petition drive has collected more than 680,000 signatures, said
Richard Lee, the measure's main proponent, about 57% more than the
433,971 needed.

"It was so easy to get them," Lee said. "People were so eager to sign."

The initiative would allow cities and counties to adopt laws to allow
marijuana to be grown and sold, and to impose taxes on marijuana
production and sales. It would make it legal for anyone who is at least
21 to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow plants in an area of no
more than 25 square feet for personal use.

Steve Smith, a political consultant who has run many California
initiative campaigns, said that as a rule of thumb, supporters assume
that about 30% of the signatures on petitions will be invalidated.

"I'll be very surprised if they don't qualify," he said.

The measure, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, is one of four
initiatives in circulation to legalize marijuana use, but it 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 at least $1.1 million so far on the measure. Lee owns half a dozen
businesses in Oakland, including Coffeeshop Blue Sky, a medical
marijuana dispensary, and Oaksterdam University, which teaches about

Lee said he expected that the campaign will cost between $7 million and
$20 million, but he hopes to raise the money from across the country.

"We feel like we've done our part," he said.

Lee has hired consultants to run an Internet-based campaign that he said
already has a mailing list of about 30,000.

In a news release, the campaign announced that it had more than 650,000
signatures, but Lee said that the firm he hired to collect signatures
put the number at more than 680,000. Lee said volunteers would continue
to gather signatures until the campaign turns in the petition early next

Polls have shown support among California voters for 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 pot legal and tax it. A poll
taken for the initiative's proponents in August found that 51% of likely
voters supported it when read language similar to what will be on the
ballot, but that increased to 54% when they were read a less technical

Smith said those numbers suggest proponents face tough odds.

"Generally, you are at your high point when you start," he said. "The no
side just has to come up with one good reason to vote no."

But Smith said that a lot will depend on how much money is spent by both
sides and whether the electorate tilts toward left or right on election

"I think it'll probably be a very close vote," he said.

Law enforcement organizations are likely to oppose the measure, but
several contacted Monday said they had not yet adopted an official

Some marijuana advocates have criticized Lee for pushing his measure,
arguing that they would have a better chance in 2012, a presidential
election year when the electorate tends to be more liberal.

"I think things have turned our way so much that we have a good chance
of winning," Lee said. "This is the time to bring up the issue and talk
about it. Who knows what will be going on in 2012."

Dale Gieringer, the director of California NORML, was one of the
skeptics, but he said his pro-legalization organization would endorse
the ballot measure.

"I'd like the initiative to pass," he said, "but I'm not holding my
breath necessarily for this to happen."

Lee said he believes that the increasing acceptance of medical marijuana
has changed the dynamic. He said voters are aware that it is easy to
obtain a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana, but he said most
believe that is "a good thing."

"Medical marijuana in California has been accepted as legalization in
some ways by a lot of the population," he said. "To me this is codifying
what it happening."


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