Pot Vote: Legalizing Marijuana Could Be On 2010 Ballot

A measure to legalize marijuana in California has enough signatures to qualify for the November 2010 ballot, advocates say.

The Tax and Regulate Initiative has far more than the nearly 434,000 signatures needed to make the statewide ballot, said Richard Lee, well-known Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur and the initiative's main backer. Campaign organizers say they will submit more than 650,000 signatures of registered voters next month.

"People were eager to sign," Lee told the Chronicle. "We heard they were ripping the petitions out of people's hands to do it.

"We'll keep our organizers on the street to keep the momentum going strong, but today we're declaring an overwhelming victory."

The proposal would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older. Residents could cultivate marijuana gardens up to 25 square feet. City and county governments would determine whether to permit and tax marijuana sales within their boundaries.

County election officials across the state now must validate and count the signatures before the California Secretary of State puts the measure on the ballot .

Lee's group has collected more than 680,000 signatures, about 57% more than the number needed. That should be plenty -- as a rule of thumb, about 30% of signatures on petitions can be expected to be invalidated, according to Steve Smith, a political consultant who has run many California initiative campaigns.

"I'd be very surprised if they don't qualify," Smith told the Los Angeles Times.

A Field Poll conducted in April found that 56 percent of California residents supported legalizing and taxing marijuana to help bridge the state budget deficit. Still, pro-legalization advocates are divided over whether the ballot measure is being pushed too soon.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law. But some legal scholars have argued the U.S. government could do little to make California enforce the federal ban if the drug became legal under state law.

Oakland is ground zero for marijuana legalization in the U.S. It became the first city in the country to pass a cannabis tax during a special election in July. The city is expected generate nearly $300,000 a year from taxes on medical cannabis clubs. Other California cities considering taxing medical marijuana are San Jose, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Lee owns a handful of Oakland businesses, including Coffeeshop Blue Sky and the famed Oaksterdam University, where students can enroll in classes for "entering the budding cannabis job field." Lee's company has spent $1.1 million on the effort already, and expects a full campaign to cost between $7 million and $20 million.

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

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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