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Marijuana Legalization Could be put to California Voters

Advocates for legalizing and taxing marijuana in California say they have gathered enough signatures to put the issue to voters.

A message on the Web site of the Tax and Regulate Initiative says advocates have the signatures to get the question of giving local governments the authority to legalize and tax marijuana onto the 2010 ballot.

Richard Lee, the primary backer of the effort, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that more than 680,000 signatures have been gathered, far more than the necessary 433,971. It reportedly cost $1 million to gather the signatures over two months, and the drive was overseen by a professional firm.

Lee is the owner of Oakland's Oaksterdam University and Coffeeshop Blue Sky, a pair of marijuana-related businesses. His campaign is planning to submit the signatures for verification to the California Secretary of State next month, with the aim of seeing the issue on the ballot next November.

A Gallup poll in October found that 44 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, and a CBS News poll in July put that figure at 41 percent. Among Californians, according to a recent Field Poll, support for legalization stands at 56 percent.

Advocates for legalizing marijuana in California argue that doing so – and taxing the drug – will generate much-needed revenue for the cash-strapped state, potentially in excess of $1 billion per year. The state is now facing a $22 billion budget deficit. Advocates also say that legalizing the drug will help put an end to what they consider the unnecessary arrest of hundreds of thousands of non-violent marijuana users nationwide each year.

President Obama, who has been asked about the issue more than once, says he believes marijuana legalization is not "a good strategy to grow our economy."

According to the Associated Press, the ballot proposal in California would legalize possession of marijuana up to one ounce for Californians age 21 and older. State residents could also cultivate small marijuana gardens, and local governments would decide whether or not to allow sales of the drug in their area.

It also reportedly calls for increased penalties for giving marijuana to a minor and prohibits smoking it in public or possessing it on school grounds.

California already allows medical marijuana use.

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