Legalize-Pot Activists Push for Upset Win in California

November 2, 2010 - 3:11 PM

California Proposition 19 rally

California Proposition 19, the legalization of marijuana initiative, supporter Kainoa Ignacio, from Honolulu, holds up a sign as he makes a Hawaiian greetings sign during a rally at Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif., Monday, Nov. 1, 2010. The rally was sponsored by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UC Berkeley Chapter. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

(AP) - California voters decided Tuesday whether to make their state the first to legalize recreational marijuana, drawing worldwide attention atop the 160 ballot measures in 37 states that also included divisive proposals to slash taxes and ban abortion.

The California proposal - titled the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act - would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot, consume it in nonpublic places as long as no children were present and grow it in small private plots.

The initiative, Proposition 19 on the state ballot, would authorize local governments to permit commercial pot cultivation, as well as the sale and use of marijuana at licensed establishments.

Proponents have pitched it as a sensible, though unprecedented, experiment that would provide much-needed revenue for the cash-strapped state, dent the drug-related violence in Mexico by causing pot prices to plummet and reduce marijuana arrests that they say disproportionately target minority youth.

The state branches of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens have endorsed it, as have several retired police chiefs. Several California cities have companion measures on their local ballots that would tax retail marijuana sales if the measure passes.

Although marijuana already is available at storefront medical marijuana dispensaries in California, Prop 19 trailed in recent opinion polls. Every major newspaper, both political parties, the two candidates for governor and all but a handful of leading politicians have come out against it.

Federal officials said they would continue enforcing laws against marijuana possession and sales, and have not ruled out suing to overturn the California initiative if it passes.

Prop 19 supporters were buoyed by a new Gallup poll showing that national support for legalizing marijuana has reached an all-time high of 46 percent. Gallup said majority support could come within a few years if recent trends continue.

"No matter what happens (with Prop 19), it's now undeniable that national public sentiment is increasingly turning against the idea that responsible adults should be criminalized for using a substance less harmful than alcohol," said Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project. "We are already looking forward to achieving major victories in 2012."

In Arizona and South Dakota, voters considered measures to legalize medical marijuana - a step already taken by California and 13 other states. Oregon voters were deciding whether to expand the state's current medical marijuana law by authorizing state-licensed dispensaries.

Among other notable ballot issues on Tuesday:

-For the first time since the 1990s, there were no measures to ban same-sex marriage. But in Iowa, voters were deciding whether to oust three state Supreme Court justices who joined a unanimous 2009 ruling that legalized gay marriage there.

-In Colorado, political leaders of both major parties opposed three measures to ban borrowing for public works, cut the income tax and slash school district property taxes. Opponents said the proposals would cost the state $2.1 billion in revenue and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs.

-A Massachusetts ballot measure would lower the state sales tax from 6.25 to 3 percent. Critics said it would force the state to slash $2.5 billion in services.

-Washington state's voters had a chance to repeal taxes on candy, soda and bottled water adopted by lawmakers last year, which would eliminate a projected $352 million in revenue over five years. Another proposal would impose a state income tax on any income above $200,000, or $400,000 for couples.

-Colorado voters were deciding on an anti-abortion "personhood" amendment - similar to one rejected in 2008 - that would give unborn fetuses human rights in the state constitution.

-California's Proposition 23 would suspend the state's landmark greenhouse gas emissions law until the jobless rate falls to 5.5 percent for a year. It is backed by out-of-state oil companies; foes include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and alternative-energy entrepreneurs.

-Measures in Oklahoma would declare English the state's "common and unifying language" and prohibit state courts from considering international law or Islamic law when deciding cases.

-An Arizona measure would ban affirmative action programs by state and local governments based on race, ethnicity or sex.

-In Illinois, where the two most recent former governors have been convicted on federal charges, a proposed amendment would empower voters to recall governors.

-Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma had proposed amendments aimed at nullifying the segment of the new federal health care law requiring people to have health insurance.

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David Crary reported from New York.