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California Legalization Petition Advances

Backers of a petition to legalize marijuana for recreation are moving closer to success in November.

California-cops-charged-dispensary-raidOrganizers of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), a public ballot initiative that would make recreational cannabis legal throughout California, say they are almost ready to hand in the signatures necessary to put the question before voters.

The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to buy and possess up to an ounce of marijuana legally. It would also provide regulations for a legal cannabis industry built on the existing medical marijuana market.

The reformers behind the AUMA must obtain at least 365,880 valid voter signatures to put the issue on the ballot in the November election. They say they’re ready to deliver a much larger number to the state by the end of April. Elections officials suggest a voluntary deadline of April 26, though organizers could go over that by a few days.

“We’re in a good position,” said the group’s spokesman, Jason Kinney. “It’s safe to say that we’re going to turn in signatures very soon.”

Set to submit signatures to officials very soon

Elections experts generally recommend that public initiative sponsors collect significantly more signatures than are legally required because many are disqualified during review by the state. Signature-gathering efforts in California typically cost millions of dollars and can take months.

Several groups are pushing separate petitions to legalize cannabis, but the AUMA is the only proposal backed by enough money to succeed. The group behind it is led by tech billionaire Sean Parker and has already raised more than $3 million, $1 million of it from Parker alone.

The AUMA effort is the only one that has collected at least 25 percent of its signature target. The group reported reaching that milestone in February, as required by state law.

The petition has wide support, with backers including California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state branch of the NAACP, national lobbying group Drug Policy Action, and NORML in Washington, D.C. The only competing approach that posed a threat to the AUMA abandoned its petition earlier this year and joined forces with Parker’s group.

The battle is not over yet

California-marijuanaEven with at least 400,000 signatures, the group’s campaign is just beginning. It can cost tens of millions of dollars to push through a major public initiative in the Golden State, and the Drug Policy Alliance, the parent organization of Drug Policy Action, predicts Parker will raise at least $12 million in coming weeks.

“We’re not worried at all about the money,” said Lynne Lyman, California director of thee Drug Policy Alliance. “We’re ready to battle it out on the airwaves.”

Kinney said success is likely, as voter backing for legalization is strong. Recent polls agree, pegging support at 60 percent or more. Previous efforts to legalize failed, but odds are considered much stronger this time around, especially since presidential elections tend to attract exactly the kind of young, liberal voters who support marijuana reform.

“We have confidence we will be well-funded and able to communicate our message to every corner of the state,” Kinney said.

Once Parker’s group turns in the necessary signatures, state officials will have 30 days to review and certify them. Full-scale campaigning for the AUMA is expected to start by early May.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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