Backers of a marijuana legalization initiative say they have collected enough signatures for the measure to qualify for the California ballot this November. (Justin Sullivan, Getty Images file)

California pot: One important step closer to making ballot

SAN FRANCISCO — Backers of a marijuana legalization initiative said Wednesday they have collected enough signatures for the measure to qualify for the November ballot in California.

The coalition that includes former Facebook president Sean Parker and is backed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and marijuana advocacy groups said it has collected 600,000 signatures from registered voters — far more than the 365,000 needed — ahead of the July 5 deadline.

Stressing what promises to be a dominant message of their campaign, Newsom and other supporters said the initiative will make it harder for people under 21 to obtain pot.

“You do not need to be pro-marijuana to be pro-legalization,” Newsom said. “We are not promoting something that is not already ubiquitous in the state of California.”

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act was one of more than a dozen recreational marijuana measures that initially competed for the November ballot. The groups with the most political capital and money eventually lined up behind the Parker-spearheaded initiative after a behind-the-scenes skirmish over issues such as whether growers would be allowed to sell directly to retail outlets and how medical marijuana would be taxed.

The initiative has been endorsed by the California NAACP, California Medical Association and California Democratic Party. The California Republican Party voted to oppose it at its convention last month.

The campaign’s fundraising committee had raised $2.5 million as of the end of March, the bulk of it from Parker, a political action committee funded by the late founder of Progressive Insurance, and a California venture capitalist who founded an online medical marijuana platform called WeedMaps.

Campaign spokesman Jason Kinney would not say Wednesday how much initiative backers expect to spend to get it passed. With several deep-pocketed donors already on board, raising money should not be a problem for this campaign, he said.

California became the first U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana 20 years ago and it was the first state to put a recreational use initiative before voters. The 2010 measure failed amid infighting between dispensary owners and growers.

In the years since, voters in Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon have passed initiatives allowing for the sale and use of marijuana by adults 21 and over.

Initiatives allowing for casual use already have qualified for November ballots in Nevada and Maine.

The California measure would allow adults 21 and over to buy an ounce of marijuana and marijuana-infused products at licensed retail outlets and also to grow up to six pot plants for personal recreational use. It incorporates most of the regulatory framework of the state’s medical marijuana industry such as detailed tracking, testing and labeling requirements.

Recreational and medical sales of pot would be overseen by a new bureau within the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Recreational pot would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax.

California’s legislative analyst and finance director estimate that legalizing marijuana for recreational use could net as much as $1 billion a year in new tax revenue for the state and local governments. They said the initiative would direct most taxes on marijuana sales and production to covering regulatory costs, research on the effects of legalization, substance abuse treatment and other purposes.

The measure would pass with a simple majority vote.

Those opposed to legalization launched a campaign Wednesday to defeat the measure.

The group, which includes police, unions, elected officials, small growers and hospital officials, said it will lay out legal loopholes that should concern even those generally supportive of legalization.

Ventura police Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said current law prohibits convicted meth and heroin felons from being involved in medical marijuana.

“But this new initiative will specifically allow for convicted major meth and heroin dealers to be licensed recreational marijuana vendors in California,” Corney said. “You have to question proponents in terms of placing personal wealth and corporation profits ahead of community well-being.”

Why California comic Adam Carolla thinks voters will say no to legalization:

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