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CALIFORNIA: Momentum to legalize pot this year

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There are increasing signs that 2016 might just be the year the largest state in the nation legalizes recreational marijuana.

Polls have shown from 56 percent to 60 percent of California’s likely voters in the November presidential contest support legal pot. And due in part to hefty financial backing from a Silicon Valley billionaire, the leading pro-marijuana measure – the Adult Use of Marijuana Act – has gotten off to one of the strongest starts among dozens of proposed initiatives on different topics being pitched for the Nov. 8 ballot.

“We believe that AUMA has a very strong chance of passing in 2016,” said Chris Beals, chief strategy officer for Irvine-based Weedmaps, which has donated $500,000 to the campaign. “While there is still much work to be done to further educate voters on the issue, support for ending prohibition is strong in California.”

Of course, much could change between now and the November election. Law enforcement and other groups that helped defeat a marijuana legalization measure in 2010 are just gearing up efforts to oppose AUMA. Plus, there’s continuing discord among advocates over a glut of legalization proposals and which would best serve residents without allowing big corporations to dominate a pot industry that’s poised to grow substantially.

Still, AUMA has landed a broad coalition of mainstream supporters, including gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Medical Association and a slew of environmental groups.

The campaign for the measure has already raised $2.25 million, and it gathered a quarter of the 365,880 signatures needed by April 26 in just 29 days.

Momentum for legalization is building, too, with recreational use now permitted in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. And the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office is predicting that annual new revenue under AUMA could reach up to $1 billion.

“I think everyone views California as the super bowl of this movement,” said Jason Kinney, spokesman for the initiative’s campaign. “Winning here would have an impact on the rest of the country.”

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