SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Stressing the failure of the war on drugs and the dangers of the marijuana “black market,” California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday an initiative to legalize recreational pot has enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Joined by a Republican congressman and a coalition of former law enforcement officials and doctors, Newsom said California voters will have a chance to impact the national debate over drug reform policy.
“California will be asked to do something that will change the debate nationally in terms of failed drug policy,” Newsom said at a press conference. “California is a game-changer in this debate.”
The initiative would legalize the possession of 1 ounce of pot and create a 15 percent tax on retail sales. Newsom said the coalition has collected more than 600,000 statewide signatures, easily surpassing the 365,000 necessary to send the issue to voters.
While California voters rejected a marijuana legalization effort in 2010, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is buoyed by the support of several high-ranking lawmakers including Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa. The conservative and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter said the war on drugs has distracted law enforcement at an unnecessary cost to taxpayers for decades.
“Billions of dollars are taken away from the Forest Service and all the other services that we offer from the federal government; they are being defunded in order to maintain a war on drugs that is philosophically wrong,” Rohrabacher said.
The legalization effort has also received backing and donations from billionaire Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook. Other supporters include the California Medical Association, the California Cannabis Industry Association and the California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
If passed by voters, California would join Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon as states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, a group which helped defeat the 2010 legalization effort, has come out against the latest measure, as has the California Police Chiefs Association. Critics fear teenage pot use could rise and that adult addiction rates will skyrocket due to the sale of powerful strains of weed.
Newsom is also leading a stringent gun-control initiative that calls for background checks on ammunition purchases and expanding the state’s assault weapons ban. The 2018 California gubernatorial candidate said this past Friday that the gun-control measure has also collected enough signatures for the crowded November ballot.
The Democrat said the marijuana legalization push is not just a tax “gold rush,” and urged his fellow lawmakers to join the conversation.
“[Elected officials] have got to step up. You have an obligation because this is serious business and people’s lives have been destroyed in this state and our country because we’ve been passive in this discussion,” Newsom said.
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