Tech tycoon spearheads pot legalization bid in California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The push to put California among the states where marijuana can be sold to and legally used by adults for recreation took a major step forward on Monday as ballot language backed by Napster co-founder Sean Parker, other wealthy entrepreneurs who support pot legalization and leading advocacy groups was filed with the state.

The proposed legalization initiative is one of more than a dozen that has been submitted in California for the November 2016 election. Because of the deep pockets, political connections and professional credibility of its supporters, however, observers think the so-called Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the vehicle with the greatest chance of success.

“We believe this effort has the support and resources to mount a successful campaign for responsible adult-use,” California Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Nate Bradley, whose organization is endorsing the measure, said. “This is the one to watch. This is the one.”

The measure would allow adults 21 and over to buy an ounce of marijuana and marijuana-infused products at licensed retail outlets and also to grow up to six pot plants for personal recreational use. Both the new recreational market and the state’s existing medical marijuana industry would be regulated through the California Department of Consumer Affairs and authorize the state to impose the same 15 percent excise tax on both medical and recreational marijuana.

Four people who worked on the initiative independently told The Associated Press that the drafting process and early work to enlist sponsors and build a campaign team was spearheaded by Parker, the billionaire technology investor who upended the music business as a teenager by co-founding the file sharing site Napster and served as Facebook’s first president.

Those people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss Parker’s involvement or to name the other wealthy entrepreneurs expected to fund the effort until an official campaign committee starts raising money and becomes subject to state disclosure laws.

Other potential donors who have expressed interest in bankrolling the work to qualify the measure for the ballot and to mount a multi-million dollar election campaign include a political action committee founded by the family of the late Progressive Insurance executive Peter Lewis; some members of the Chicago family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain; and Justin Hartfield, chief executive of online marijuana directory WeedMaps, the sources said.

Lewis, who died almost two years ago, gave $218,505 in 2010 to support what became an unsuccessful attempt to legalize recreational marijuana in California. Parker gave $100,000.

The Parker-backed initiative also has lined up support from the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project, two leading marijuana reform advocacy groups that led the earlier campaigns to pass pot legalization measures in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

“This is the most incredibly broad coalition that could have been brought together, everything from the drug policy reform movement to the environmental movement to the industry actors to the medical field, as well as the lineup of all of the most likely funders for something like this,” said Lynne Lyman, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The fledgling campaign recruited Dr. Donald Lyman, the former head of state health department division responsible for discouraging tobacco use, and former California Fish and Game Commission President Michael Sutton as the measure’s official proponents – the individuals whose names will appear in voter guides as the sponsors.

While it has attracted the most support so far and stands poised to amass the most funding, the new measure may not be the only one seeking to legalize recreational pot use California voters may face next year.

The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, a group that spent months soliciting ideas for what a California measure should look like at meetings throughout the state, submitted its own initiative on Oct. 2 with the backing of the president of the California NAACP.

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