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updated 9/13/2010 3:59:28 PM ET 2010-09-13T19:59:28

A group of former law enforcement officials on Monday endorsed a November ballot measure that would legalize marijuana in California, saying it would unclog court dockets and allow police to focus on more serious crime.

The group supporting Proposition 19 is largely comprised of former or retired police officers, judges and prosecutors. Among them are former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan and ex-San Jose police Chief Joseph McNamara.

Supporters said keeping pot illegal props up drug cartels and overburdens the state's court system. Stephen Downing, former deputy chief for the Los Angeles Police Department, said the nation's drug policy has failed, likening it to cutting off the leg of a spider to cripple it.

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"The drug organizations are more like starfish," Downing said during a press conference at a West Hollywood park where children were playing with their parents behind him. "You cut a leg off, it regenerates. We are dealing with a sea of starfish. The only way you kill a starfish is to remove its nutrient. And that nutrient is money."

If approved by voters, the proposition would allow adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Local governments would be allowed to tax its sales.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca recently said he would lead efforts against Proposition 19. His counterpart, Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck, said he's personally against the ballot measure, but his department has not taken a position.

All nine former Drug Enforcement Administration bosses recently said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that legalizing marijuana offered the same threat to federal authority as Arizona's immigration crackdown. Obama's drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has said he opposes Proposition 19.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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