Marijuana legalization qualifies for Colorado ballot in U.S.

DENVER Tue Feb 28, 2012 3:46am IST

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DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado voter initiative that would legalize possession of marijuana by adults for personal recreational use qualified on Monday for the state's November ballot, state officials said.

Colorado already is one of 16 U.S. states, along with Washington, D.C., that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Moves to decriminalize marijuana at the state level in the United States face opposition from the federal government, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal narcotic.

A similar measure to permit recreational marijuana use earned a place last month on the Washington state ballot. Legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes was defeated by California voters in 2010.

Under a medical marijuana law enacted in 2000, Colorado maintains a registry of more than 80,000 card-carrying patients and rules governing how physicians and distributors operate.

However, federal prosecutors launched a crackdown last month against nearly two dozen medical marijuana dispensaries located within 1,000 feet (305 meters) of schools, giving proprietors 45 days to cease operations or face civil and criminal penalties. That deadline was to lapse at the end of the day on Monday.

Proponents of legalized recreational possession initially submitted more than 163,000 signatures on a petition to place their measure on the ballot, but the state's secretary of state declared the petition insufficient on February 3.

Advocates submitted an additional 14,000 signatures two weeks ago, and after a second review, the state certified that the proposal would qualify for the general election ballot on November 6, when voters also will decide the U.S. presidential race.

Voters defeated a previous ballot measure to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes in 2006. But proponents see momentum on their side, citing Gallup poll last October that found 50 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana use, up from 36 percent five years earlier.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)

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