Measure to legalize marijuana will be on California’s November ballot

An initiative to legalize marijuana and allow it to be sold and taxed will appear on the November ballot, state election officials announced Wednesday, triggering what will probably be a much-watched campaign that once again puts California on the forefront of the nation’s debate over whether to soften drug laws.

The number of valid signatures reported by Los Angeles County, submitted minutes before Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, put the measure well beyond the 433,971 it needed to be certified. Supporters turned in 694,248 signatures, collecting them in every county except Alpine. County election officials estimated that 523,531 were valid.

The measure’s main advocate, Richard Lee, an Oakland marijuana entrepreneur, savored the chance to press his case with voters that the state’s decades-old ban on marijuana is a failed policy.

“We’re one step closer to ending cannabis prohibition and the unjust laws that lock people up for cannabis while alcohol is not only sold openly but advertised on television to kids every day,” he said.

Lee, tapping $1.3 million from his businesses, has put together a highly organized campaign that he emphasized Wednesday would be led by a team of experienced political consultants, including Chris Lehane, a veteran operative who has worked in the White House and on presidential campaigns.

“There’s all kinds of big professional politicos who are coming on board now to take it to the next level,” Lee said.

Opponents have also started to put together their campaign. “There’s going to be a very broad coalition opposing this that will include law enforcement,” said John Lovell, a Sacramento lobbyist who represents the California Police Chiefs Assn. and other law enforcement groups. “We’ll educate people as to what this measure really entails.”

The measure, like the medical marijuana initiative, could put California on a collision course with the federal government. The possession and sale of marijuana remain a federal crime.

This month, President Obama’s drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske, decried legalization in a speech to police chiefs in San Jose.

The initiative would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce for personal use.

Possession of an ounce or less has been a misdemeanor with a $100 fine since 1975, when Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who was then governor, signed a law that reduced tough marijuana penalties that had allowed judges to impose 10-year sentences.

Written by John Hoeffel from LATimes.

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