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MC_POTFARM_05.JPGAs a new poll finds that a majority of California voters back legalizing marijuana, proponents of a ballot proposal to decriminalize cannabis have the green light to collect signatures to put it on the 2014 ballot.

The ballot initiative -- which "decriminalizes marijuana and hemp use, possession, cultivation, transportation, or distribution" -- has been cleared for circulation, the Secretary of State's office announced Thursday.

In addition, the proposal would institute case-by-case reviews of nonviolent marijuana convictions and charges. It would also have the Legislature enact laws to tax and regulate the plant, allow doctors to prescribe pot regardless of a patient's age, and ban state or local governments from enforcing federal marijuana law.

California's electorate rejected a similar initiative back in 2010. Voters burned the backers of Proposition 19, easily defeating the measure.

Since then, Washington and Colorado have decriminalized the drug for recreational use, seizing California's one-time reputation as the national leader on more lenient marijuana laws.

And in an indication of shifting attitudes, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll found that a majority of respondents -- 52 percent of adult residents and a resounding 60 percent of likely voters -- favored legalizing marijuana.

The poll also found increased public receptiveness to relaxed marijuana laws, with 61 percent of adults -- including clear majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents -- saying that the federal government should not enforce a federal pot prohibition in states permitting marijuana use.

"Our state has for many years lived with medical marijuana -- not to say it isn't controversial in locations, but it's generally accepted," said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. "It's really now a different political context for having discussions about where does California go with legalization."

Still, this particular initiative looks less professional than past efforts: The cover note is written by hand and contains an email address but no phone number for one of its backers, Berton Duzy of Simi Valley.

PHOTO: A federal special agent points out marijuana plants at an illegal grow site off Interstate 5 near the Twin Cities exit on Aug. 30, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.


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