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California rejects measure to legalize pot

SAN FRANCISCO - California voters rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana for personal use, blocking efforts to expand the industry beyond medical purposes in the nation's most populous state.

Proposition 19 failed 54 percent to 46 percent, according to California's Secretary of State. Backers included billionaire investor George Soros, who contributed $1 million in support.

The proposition lost in three northern counties - Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino - identified in a Rand Corp. report this year as the center of the state's pot production.

"Legalization would be competition to the black market," Steve Downing, a former deputy chief in the Los Angeles Police Department told reporters yesterday.

California was the first to legalize marijuana for medical use, in 1996; 13 states and the District of Columbia followed. Tuesday's defeat allows the state to sidestep a fight with the federal government, which had threatened to prosecute marijuana use if the measure won.

Another attempt to legalize marijuana in California will probably be less broad, said Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. It might allow home cultivation or restricted access, like buyer's clubs, rather than full-scale retail sales, he said.

California residents consume about 1 million pounds of marijuana each year, according to the state's tax administrator, the Equalization Board. The proposition would have allowed people 21 or older to possess and grow limited amounts for personal use. It also would have allowed local governments to tax and regulate its commercial production, distribution and sale.

Proponents pitched it as a sensible, though unprecedented, experiment that would provide much-needed revenue for the cash-strapped state, dent the drug-related violence in Mexico by causing pot prices to plummet, and reduce marijuana arrests they say disproportionately target minority youth. However, every major newspaper, both political parties, the two candidates for governor and all but a handful of leading politicians came out against it.

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