California Doctor Heads Up Well-Funded Marijuana Legalization Initiative

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A budtender pours marijuana from a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California.  (David McNew/Getty Images)

The physician who wrote the California Medical Association's background paper on marijuana in 2011 is one of the official proponents of the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, filed Monday with the California Secretary of State's Office.

In filing the measure, Dr. Donald O. Lyman said in a written statement that "the physician community and the people of California in general have increasingly voiced support for ending marijuana prohibition and bringing greater control, oversight and consumer protections to our marijuana policies.”

“This is the most comprehensive and carefully-crafted measure ever introduced to control, regulate and tax responsible adult-use of marijuana anywhere in America -- and it will make California healthier, make our streets and communities safer and better protect our children," he added.

The proposed measure attempts to address some of the issues voters have expressed concern about in the past, including access for children and public safety. It would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of pot at a time, and grow up to six plants. Cities and counties could still ban marijuana sales, but could not disallow personal cultivation in homes. The act would limit public smoking, and treat open containers of pot like alcohol.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has come out strongly in favor of legalizing marijuana, immediately threw his support behind the measure. He said it follows the road map he and other members of a commission laid out this summer.

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"I am pleased that this thoughtful measure is aligned with the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations, and presents California its best opportunity to improve the status quo by making marijuana difficult for kids to access," Newsom said.

"It is backed by the broadest coalition of supporters to date and I believe that Californians will rally behind this consensus measure, which also serves to strengthen law enforcement, respect local preferences, protect public health and public safety, and restore the environment."

There are already more than a dozen potential 2016 marijuana legalization measures out there, but none boast the deep pockets of this initiative, which is supported by billionaire tech investor Sean Parker -- co-founder of Napster and a former Facebook president.

And that's why this version is widely seen as the one with legs -- when it comes to ballot measures, money talks. To simply collect the required signatures to qualify a measure for the state ballot generally takes millions of dollars, and then you need the cash to convince voters they should back the measure. A competing measure backed by California NORML, which has some high-profile advisers, has run into bumps lately around both money and endorsements. 

The question now becomes whether supporters of legalization will coalesce behind one measure, or split their support among multiple initiatives, diluting their clout and opening themselves up to attacks from those that oppose legalization. The pro-marijuana side has been rife with internal debates, most notably in 2010 when the last attempt to legalize marijuana, Proposition 19, was defeated.