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Pot Legalization Bid In California Gains Powerful Backers

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A long-promised campaign to legalize recreational marijuana use in California next year reached the starting gate with the filing of a ballot initiative backed by technology investor Sean Parker.

Four people who worked on the initiative submitted Monday, independently told The Associated Press that it was spearheaded by Parker, the billionaire 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.

The Parker-led push to put California among the states where marijuana can be sold to and legally used by adults for recreation is one of more than a dozen that has been submitted 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 likely is the vehicle with the greatest chance of success.

"This is the one to watch. This is the one," California Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Nate Bradley, whose organization is endorsing the measure, said. "This one has this broad-based coalition behind it, the funding behind it...and still allows for a free market in the cannabis industry.'

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. It incorporates most of the elements of an overdue regulatory framework for the state's medical marijuana industry Gov. Jerry Brown signed last month.

Both the new recreational market and the existing medical marijuana industry would be overseen by a new bureau within the California Department of Consumer Affairs and subject to a 15 percent excise tax. Medical marijuana, however, would be exempt from state and local sales taxes.

Parker issued a statement on Monday expressing optimism about the initiative without acknowledging his role in getting it drafted.

"I've been following this issue with great interest for some time. It's very encouraging to see a vibrant community of activists, many of whom have dedicated their lives to this issue, coming together around a sensible reform based measure," he said.

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

The Nature Conservancy, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that does environmental protection work, praised provisions of the measure that charge multiple state agencies with developing procedures to address water quality problems associated with marijuana cultivation.

"This is the most incredibly broad coalition that could have been brought together," said Lynne Lyman, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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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