Recreational marijuana use back on Calif. ballot

SAFED, ISRAEL - MARCH 07: (ISRAEL OUT) Packed cannabis at the growing facility of the Tikun Olam company on March 7, 2011 near the northern city of Safed, Israel. In conjunction with Israel's Health Ministry, Tikon Olam are currently distributing cannabis for medicinal purposes to over 1800 people in Israel. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana will try to win over California voters again next year, after the secretary of state's office on Monday cleared them to begin circulating ballot petitions.

This time they will argue that pot growers should be treated the same as vineyard owners or microbrewers. Those who grow marijuana for their own use would not be taxed, but those who sell it would be regulated by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Medical marijuana activist Steve Kubby, who is one of the key backers of the current movement, said keeping the recreational use of marijuana illegal was like the federal government's prohibition of alcohol, which ended in 1933.

"We're repealing bad laws," he said in an interview Monday. "We're creating a sales tax on the biggest crop in the state, and we're bringing it within a regulated model."

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Kubby said the latest effort stands a better chance than Proposition 19, which fell 6 percentage points short of the majority vote it needed last November. That initiative would have made California the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales.

Voter attitudes are evolving, said Kubby, who helped write the medical marijuana law California voters approved in 1996 and was the 1998 Libertarian candidate for governor. He said his measure also stands a better chance during a presidential election.

Supporters say older, more conservative voters are more likely to participate in midterm elections, while presidential elections tend to draw a broader electorate.

On Monday, the secretary of state's office said proponents can begin gathering the 504,760 signatures they'll need to collect by Dec. 19 to put the initiative on the June or November ballots next year. The timing depends on how quickly the signatures are submitted and verified, although Kubby said proponents plan to submit revisions that would likely push the measure to the November general election.

Opponents said legalization could lead to increased addiction, drugged drivers and a clash with federal drug agents.

Critics also said last year's proposal, if voters had approved it, would have created a patchwork of marijuana policies by letting local governments permit and tax commercial cultivation and sales.

Kubby's proposal would require statewide regulation.

It also directs the state and local governments to avoid assisting the federal government in prosecuting marijuana crimes and seeks to remove marijuana from the federal government's list of controlled substances.

Kubby is joined by retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray as chief proponent. The third listed proponent is William R. McPike, the Fresno-area attorney who represented Kubby as he fought drug charges. Kubby fled to Canada before returning in 2006 to serve his sentence for a 2001 conviction for possession of a psychedelic mushroom and mescaline, a hallucinogen found in peyote.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year signed a bill making possession of up to one ounce of marijuana an infraction no more serious than a speeding ticket. Reducing the crime from a misdemeanor to an infraction means offenders no longer face arrest, do not have to appear in court and do not have a criminal record.