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Legalization Gets a Hearing in California

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The California legislature held a hearing this week on a bill that would legalize marijuana, and if that fails to pass state voters will likely have the opportunity to vote on legalization via ballot initiative next fall, the New York Times reported Oct. 28.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not endorsed legalization but said he is open to a debate on the issue, and advocates are currently gathering signatures for three separate ballot items, at least one of which is likely to qualify to go before voters.

“All of us in the movement have had the feeling that we've been running into the wind for years,” said legalization advocate James P. Gray, a retired judge from Orange County. “Now we sense we are running with the wind.”

“A lot of people that were initially resistant or even ridiculed it have come aboard,” said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, sponsor of the legalization legislation.

Backers of the leading ballot initiative expect to spend up to $20 million in hopes of getting a majority of voters to approve legalization, according to coordinator Richard Lee. Opponents include law-enforcement groups.

California made 78,500 felony and misdemeanor arrests for marijuana offenses last year, but at least seven cities in the state have declared marijuana crimes to be the lowest priority for police.

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