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Marijuana legalization petitions are filed in California

California appears headed for a rollicking November ballot fight over whether to legalize and tax marijuana cultivation and use for adults 21 years and older.

Proponents of the "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010" said Thursday that they had submitted to the state nearly 700,000 petition signatures — more than enough, if valid, to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has until June 24 to certify the measure, which needs 433,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

But already legalization proponents and opponents are gearing up for a fight. The election battle is expected to feature rival TV commercials that variously extol the tax benefits of a regulated marijuana market or warn of the threat mass legalization poses to communities.

Measure backers promise financial rescue for the state's cash-strapped schools, police agencies and social service providers, saying legalization could generate more than $1 billion in tax revenue.

"This is an historic first step toward ending cannabis prohibition," said Richard Lee, president of an Oakland medical marijuana dispensary and Oaksterdam University, a school dedicated to pot.

Lee, whose school specializes in pot law and cultivation, donated more than $1 million for the petition drive to qualify the measure. Proponents said they hope to raise as much as $10 million for the campaign.

The pro-pot coalition has signed on with a prominent San Francisco political consulting firm, SCN Strategies. Proponents also are working with an Internet fundraising firm, Blue State Digital, that helped create the Web network for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

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