09/24/2014 07:02 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

Marijuana Advocates Start Bid To Get Legalization On The California Ballot

Bruce Bennett via Getty Images

By Aaron Mendelson

Sept 24 (Reuters) - California voters could get a second chance to legalize recreational pot under a push launched on Wednesday by a marijuana advocacy group that seeks to put the matter before voters in 2016.

The Washington DC-based Marijuana Policy Project filed papers with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen to create a committee that can begin raising money in the state ahead of a signature-gathering effort, a first step toward getting the marijuana legalization measure onto the ballot.

The ballot measure, which has not yet been written, would be modeled after a law passed by Colorado voters in 2012 that legalizes adult recreational marijuana use and regulates its sales, the group said.

A 2010 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California failed.

"Marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance than alcohol, and that's how it needs to be treated," Executive Director Rob Kampia said in a statement. "Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol just makes sense."

The effort comes as voters in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia are due to decide on marijuana legalization in November, two years after Washington state and Colorado voted to become the first U.S. states to legalize recreational pot.

California voters in 1996 made the state the first in the nation to allow medical marijuana, but the possession or sale of cannabis remains illegal under federal law.

Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert said his organization was supporting legalization initiatives in 2016 in Arizona, Massachusetts and Nevada, in addition to California, and that legalization would remove a source of revenue for drug cartels, create jobs and provide revenue for the state.

In December, a Field Poll found that 56 percent of California voters would favor an initiative to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana.

Carla Lowe, who founded Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, a California group that opposed the 2010 ballot measure, expressed concern about the legalization push.

"The future of our country is really at stake," Lowe said. "Developing brains can't handle this drug. And this is our concern." (Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)



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