Advocates of legalizing marijuana say they've collected more than enough signatures to have California voters decide next year whether to tax and regulate the drug.
The signatures in support of the Tax and Regulate Initiative, which would give local governments the authority to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana, will be submitted to state election officials early next year for verification.
Delaying the submission of signatures ensures the measure would be on the November 2010 ballot, said Richard Lee, the measure's chief supporter.
The petition drive collected more than 680,000 signatures in just two months, less than half the time allowed for such a drive, said Lee, who owns Oaksterdam University and Coffeeshop Blue Sky, two Oakland-based marijuana businesses.
The signature-gathering effort, which was managed by a professional firm and so far has cost more than $1 million, only needed 433,971 valid signatures from registered voters to make the ballot, he said.
"It's long overdue," Lee said. "It was very easy. People were eager to sign. We heard they were ripping the petitions out of people's hands to do it."
He said supporters hope to raise $7 million to $20 million to pass the measure, though some opposition may be expected from law enforcement groups.
The proponents of the initiative say it is similar to the regulation of alcohol and tobacco products. It will give local governments the power to tax and regulate sales of small amounts of marijuana to adults 21 and older.
The measure also calls for increasing penalties for providing marijuana to a minor, and prohibits consumption of marijuana in public, smoking marijuana while minors are present, and possession of marijuana on school grounds.
Supporters say that studies from the Board of Equalization, California's tax regulator, suggest that taxing and regulating of marijuana could raise as much as $1.4 billion in annual revenue.
The possibility of raising such revenue in cash-strapped California, which faces a $22 billion budget deficit in the coming year, has sparked support from some surprising sources.
"This initiative is moral, sensible and the right thing to do," said Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative in a statement released Monday. "Regulating cannabis is a common sense solution that puts our priorities in order and reflects our values."
A recent California Field Poll suggested that a majority of California voters, 56 percent, support the idea of legalizing and taxing cannabis.
December 14, 2009
San Francisco Chronicle
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Pot legalization vote could be next year