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Initiative to Make Marijuana Legal for Non-Medical Use Moving Ahead

Backers of an initiative that would legalize possession, personal use, consumption, purchase and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by adults at least 21 years old received permission late last week from Secretary of State Debra Bowen to begin gathering signatures.

If approved by voters, the measure would require the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to regulate and license commercial marijuana cultivation, transportation, sales and testing and impose a 25 percent tax on nonmedical marijuana retail sales.

The tax revenue generated from the measure would be used for afterschool programs, drug treatment and prevention, local law enforcement and fire departments and environmental cleanup.

The measure would also exempt medical marijuana collectives from licensing and regulatory requirements and allow local governments to ban or limit the number of marijuana businesses.

The initiative would result in reduced costs potentially exceeding $100 million annually for state and local governments related to enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders, according to an analysis prepared by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Department of Finance.

The analysis also found that passage of the initiative would generate potential net additional tax revenues exceeding several hundred million dollars annually related to the production and sale of marijuana.

Valid signatures from 504,760 registered voters — 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 general election — must be submitted by July 7 to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

Signature gathering is already underway for two other initiatives that would legalize or decriminalize marijuana.