Marijuana legalization has been moving ahead recently with the introduction of a California state ballot initiative and national legislation to change its federal designation.

A 2012 ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana like wine has been sent to the state, its backers said on Friday.

"We have submitted the initiative to the Attorney General's Office in Sacramento," said Jim Gray, an author of the bill and retired Orange County Superior Court trial judge who ran for Senate as a Libertarian in 2004 and ran for Congress as a Republican in 1998. "The process is under way."

Gray said the initiative had some "major differences" from Proposition 19, which was defeated on Nov. 2.

Those differences include not changing current laws about driving under the influence or being impaired in the public or workplace, Gray said.

Proposition 19 would have decriminalized for ages 21 and older cultivation and possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, and barred its use in the presence of minors and in public. California residents would have been allowed to transport or possess up to one ounce and grow marijuana in a 5-foot-by-5-foot space on their property.

Gray said his initiative will also not change any existing state marijuana laws such as Proposition 215.

"Yes, I am confident if we do our job correctly we will win," he said of his initiative.


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More information on Gray's bill can be found at www.regulatemarijuanalikewine.com.

Meanwhile, the pro-marijuana movement regained headlines this week with a bipartisan bill introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank and Texas Republican Ron Paul to give states jurisdiction over pot and remove its designation as a federally controlled substance.

But the recent activity of state and national marijuana activism has not caused opponents to lose sleep.

"We're not concerned," said Paul Chabot, founder of Rancho Cucamonga-based Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition. "They're not going anywhere on the federal level. Something as extreme as marijuana legalization won't make it out of committee."

Chabot was even more blunt on state legalization efforts.

"Our approach is `bring it on,"' Chabot said on Friday fresh off an appearance on CNN, where he debated musician/comedian Tommy Chong about marijuana legalization. "We're better equipped than we have ever been. Not just in California but around the country. We're seeing signs of desperation. They're trying to twist every angle possible."

Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the California Drug Policy Alliance in Los Angeles, said he believed the Proposition 19 defeat was not a setback for his movement.

"We interpreted the Proposition 19 defeat that it was a surprisingly good showing given an inhospitable off-year election, a midyear election, and not a substantial amount of money to run a statewide campaign with a credible media buy in the major markets."

The proposition campaign drew approximately $4 million with half the amount going to the signature process and $1 million coming in the final 10 days which could not change the election's outcome, Gutwillig said.

"Generally $5 million to $7 million is the amount you want to spend outside of signature gathering," Gutwillig said.

Gutwillig said there would be more marijuana legalization initiatives every two years during this decade in a couple of states.

"It's about how much money is available and the landscape," Gutwillig said.

He said his organization has not yet analyzed Gray's initiative but would.

"Our position is that marijuana prohibition has been a catastrophe," Gutwillig said on Friday. "It's time to replace the wasteful, punitive, ineffective marijuana laws with a system to regulate and control marijuana for adults along the lines of how we regulate alcohol and cigarettes."

Prominent Riverside and Palm Springs marijuana activist and radio host Lanny Swerdlow briefly discussed the initiative at the May 21 Spring Gathering, a concert and medical marijuana expo where pro-marijuana activists talked about the future of their movement. 

Swerdlow said the initiative essentially treats marijuana like wine with the same regulations and gives growers a license to sell their product.

"I can see people making cannabis tours like wine country tours," Swerdlow said on Friday. "It would be a major shot in the arm for businesses in California and taxes in California. It would help the tourist industry, it would help the farming industry and it would help the tax coffers in the state of California. It's a win, win, win situation for all."

David Evans, executive director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition in New Jersey, took issue with Swerdlow's assessment.

"This argument to tax and regulate sounds good but look at the data," Evans said Friday. "It costs money. How are you going to regulate it? Look at how well we're doing with (taxing and regulating) alcohol and tobacco ... not too good. It's a very false argument and I hope people in California don't fall for it."

wes.woods@inlandnewspapers.com, 909-483-8549