By Patrick McGreevy
An initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California officially took its place on the Nov. 8 ballot on Tuesday as its campaign took a commanding lead in fundraising to battle the measure's opponents.
The Secretary of State's Office certified that a random sample showed sufficient signatures among the 600,000 turned in to qualify the measure. The initiative is backed by a coalition that includes former Facebook President Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
"Today marks a fresh start for California as we prepare to replace the costly, harmful and ineffective system of prohibition with a safe, legal and responsible adult-use marijuana system that gets it right and completely pays for itself," said Jason Kinney, a spokesman for California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
The initiative would allow adults ages 21 and older to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and would allow individuals to grow as many as six plants.
California would join Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon as states that allow recreational use of marijuana. Eight other states also have marijuana measures on their ballots this year.
More than $3.7 million has been raised so far by the leading campaign for the initiative, Californians to Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana While Protecting Children. Leading contributors so far have included former Facebook president Sean Parker, legalization advocacy group Drug Policy Action and a committee funded by the firm Weedmaps, a firm that helps consumers locate pot shops.
Opposition is led by the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, made up of law enforcement and health groups including the California Police Chiefs Assn., the California Hospital Assn. and the California State Sheriffs' Assn. The groups warn legalization will lead to more drugged-driving and allow dealers of harder drugs to have a role in the new industry.
The coalition has raised about $125,000 so far from groups including the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs State PAC and the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn.
A similar coalition helped defeat the last legalization measure in California, Proposition 19, in 2010.
"This campaign will be very similar to that of Proposition 19. They have the money and we have the facts," said Tim Rosales, a spokesman for the opposition coalition.
Rosales noted that under current law, convicted methamphetamine and heroin dealers are banned from being involved in the medical marijuana industry, but the initiative overturns that ban and lets those felons obtain licenses to sell recreational marijuana.
"The proponents were specifically advised by numerous law enforcement groups during the comment period about this huge flaw, but they deliberately chose to keep it in, and you have to ask 'Why?'" Rosales said. "Who is that provision for? They got it wrong. Again."
At a conference last week hosted by the National Cannabis Industry Assn. in Oakland, business people and activists were upbeat about the chances of the initiative passing, even though a similar measure in 2010 was defeated, with 53% of voters casting "no" ballots.
Advocates say the new measure has a better chance because it adds more regulation at the state level rather than letting locals dictate what happens, and comes after the state has approved a regulatory system for medical marijuana growing, transportation and sales.
In addition, the presidential election is expected to draw more young, progressive voters than the 2010 midterm election, according to Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Assn.
It also helps that recreational use has already been approved in other states, she said.
"This is six years later. We've already seen legalization pass and be successful in other states. So it's a different world in talking about his issue than it was," said West, an activist who helped host the Oakland conference.
West said "there needs to be real funding behind [the measure] and there needs to be a lot of work" to overcome opposition from law enforcement groups.
"We think voters in California are ready to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a more sensible system," said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has about 200,000 supporters nationwide.
Tvert is confident this year's measure will do better than past attempts.
He expects activists from all over the country will get involved in the California campaign, either through campaign contributions or working phone banks to get out the vote.
"We are moving to mobilize our supporters," Tvert said. "There are folks throughout the country who recognize the importance of making marijuana legal in the largest state in the nation. There are a lot of folks who recognize that passage of these laws in other states will make it easier for their state to move forward."
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