(12-14) 16:56 PST SACRAMENTO -- 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 improves the chances that the measure will be on the ballot in November, said Richard Lee, the measure's chief supporter.
The petition drive collected more than 680,000 signatures in two months, less than half the time allowed for such a drive, said Lee, who owns two marijuana businesses in Oakland - Oaksterdam University and Coffeeshop Blue Sky.
The signature-gathering effort, which was managed by a professional firm and so far has cost more than $1 million, needs 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. Law enforcement groups, including a group of narcotics officers, are expected to oppose the measure if the initiative qualifies for the ballot.
Proponents of the initiative say it is similar to the regulation of alcohol and tobacco products. It would 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 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," Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, an effort by religious groups to ease drug laws, said 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.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009