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Pot activists file ballot measure in California

/ Source: The Associated Press

Oakland pot activists fresh off a victory at local polls on the taxing of medical marijuana took their first official step Tuesday toward asking California voters to legalize pot.

A proposed ballot measure filed with the California attorney general's office would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot. Homeowners could grow marijuana for personal use on garden plots up to 25 square feet.

The measure's main backer is Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, who helped push a first-of-its-kind tax on city medical marijuana dispensaries that passed with 80 percent of the vote last week.

The statewide measure needs nearly 434,000 signatures to make the November 2010 ballot.

"It's one more pretty amazing element in the momentum toward ending statewide prohibition," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance.

His group would rather wait until 2012 to build more support for a ballot initiative but would be happy with an earlier victory, he said.

Pro-legalization advocates were emboldened earlier this year by a Field Poll that found 56 percent of California voters supported legalizing and taxing marijuana.

A similar but less restrictive pot-legalization initiative was filed two weeks ago by a group of Northern California criminal defense lawyers.

The Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act of 2010 would set no specific limits on the amount of pot adults could possess or grow for personal use. The measure would repeal all local and state marijuana laws and clear the criminal record of anyone convicted of a pot-related offense.

'Perfect storm'
Both ballot measures would be competing with a bill introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.

The San Francisco Democrat is pushing legalization as a way to generate revenue for the cash-starved state from California's massive marijuana industry. He plans to hold hearings on the legislation this fall.

Ammiano said his bill and the ballot initiatives are all part of a "perfect storm" that will lead to marijuana legalization.

"All this is beneficial at this stage in the game," he said.

El Cerrito Police Chief Scott Kirkland said the public health costs of increased drug abuse would outweigh any financial gain from legalization.

Kirkland, who heads the California Police Chiefs Association medical marijuana task force, also said he did not believe traffickers would be eager to start paying taxes if pot became legal.

"I do not believe the black market will go away," he said. "There's too much money in it."