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Californians to vote on legal weed

medical_marijuana_rally.gi.top.jpgOAKLAND, Calif.: A medical marijuana activist holds a sign during a rally on Jan. 4, 2010.By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It's official: Californians will decide whether legal marijuana should be used to plug the state's $20 billion budget gap.

California residents are expected to vote this year on whether legalization should be approved to raise nearly $1.4 billion in state revenue. That's based on an estimate from the State Board of Equalization, a tax administration agency.

"It would be another source of revenue for the state," said Anita Gore, spokeswoman for the board. The board has not issued an opinion on legalization as a means of easing the state's budget crisis, she added.

California Secretary Debra Brown confirmed on Wednesday that enough signatures had been collected to put AB 390, a marijuana legalization bill, on the ballot for Nov. 2. A press release from the secretary said that legalization proponents submitted 694,248 petition signatures for the bill, easily surpassing the required 433,791.

"The momentum for reform has grown exponentially since we introduced the bill last year," said Quitin Mecke, spokesman for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the lead sponsor of the bill. "We're excited about the prospect to reform drug laws again."

Mecke noted that California was the first state to pass legislation allowing medicinal marijuana, 14 years ago.

Unlike prior legislation that has passed in California and other states, this form of legalization is not restricted to medicinal use of marijuana. The bill proposes that marijuana be regulated and taxed in a similar way to alcohol.

According to the bill, people would have to be 21 years or older "to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use." Californians would not be permitted to use the drug in public or within the presence of minors, and would not be allowed to possess it on school grounds.

Most importantly, as far as the budget gap is concerned, the bill stipulates that the drug would be subject to a sales tax. An additional retail fee of $50 would be imposed on every ounce that's sold.

The State Board of Equalization estimates that the state could raise $1.382 billion in annual tax revenues from legal marijuana. The figure is based on estimated revenue of $990 million from the retail fees and $392 million from sales taxes.

"With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense," Ammiano said in a press release when he first proposed the bill last year.

Also, Mecke said that legalization could prompt the state to "reallocate" more than $300 million in law enforcement spending away from non-violent drug activity to address violent crimes.  To top of page

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