Just weeks before the deadline for state ballot initiatives, the effort to put a marijuana legalization measure before voters in the general election is in disarray as the federal government cracks down on medical cannabis and activists are divided on their goals.
After Proposition 19 received 46% of the vote in 2010, proponents took heart at the near-miss. They held meetings in Berkeley and Los Angeles and vowed to put a well-funded measure to fully legalize marijuana on the 2012 ballot, when the presidential election would presumably draw more young voters.
Instead, five different camps filed paperwork in Sacramento for five separate initiatives. One has given up already and the other four are teetering, vying for last-minute funding from a handful of potential donors.
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The state Board of Equalization estimates it annually collects between $57 million and $105 million in sales tax from dispensaries.
Backers of all four measures predict that the price of marijuana would drop if any of them passed. In Israel, where medical marijuana is legal, prices are a fraction of what they are in California.
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Since October, the feds have waged a multipronged attack.
In California, the DEA has raided at least 36 dispensaries and growers, confiscating marijuana, cash and computers. The state's four U.S. attorneys have sent at least 150 letters to landlords of dispensaries, ordering them to evict their tenants or face seizure of their property and prosecution. They've also threatened cities and counties that have tried to set up a permit system for dispensaries and growers.
On the financial front, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has pressured banks to close accounts linked to marijuana. And the IRS has audited dozens of dispensaries using an obscure provision of the federal tax code that prohibits drug traffickers from making any deductions.