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Marijuana legalization expected to go to ballot in California

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Opponents of a plan to legalize marijuana for personal possession in California have conceded that supporters of the measure are likely to get their proposal on a statewide ballot, the New York Times revealed in a longer story about possible legalization Wednesday.

California lawmakers are taking up a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, a first in the United States. Officials estimate the bill could bring in an additional $1.4 billion a year, a huge sum of money in a state bedeviled by financial woes.

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While the “legislature is uncertain, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has indicated he would be open to a “robust debate” on the issue,” the Times wrote.

Perhaps equally important, the paper adds:

California voters are also taking up legalization. Three separate initiatives are being circulated for signatures to appear on the ballot next year, all of which would permit adults to possess marijuana for personal use and allow local governments to tax it. Even opponents of legalization suggest that an initiative is likely to qualify for a statewide vote.

“All of us in the movement have had the feeling that we’ve been running into the wind for years,” said James P. Gray, a retired judge in Orange County who has been outspoken in support of legalization. “Now we sense we are running with the wind.”

Proponents of the leading ballot initiative have collected nearly 300,000 signatures since late September, supporters say, easily on pace to qualify for the November 2010 general election. Richard Lee, a longtime marijuana activist who is behind the measure, says he has raised nearly $1 million to hire professionals to assist volunteers in gathering the signatures.

“Voters are ripping the petitions out of our hands,” Mr. Lee said.

Despite widespread support, however, the bill would almost certainly run into thorns with federal law, which classifies marijuana as an illegal substance. Some supporters are encouraged, though, by the Obama Administration’s announcement that they will not prosecute those involved in the medical marijuana trade.

Lee, the organizer, says he intends to spend $20 million on a campaign to win passage of the measure.

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Numerous states have already decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana, though none have legalized it.


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