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Legal Pot in California in 2010? "Oaksterdam" Provides the Model

Pot entrepreneur Richard Lee envisions a professional marijuana industry much like the one that exists in Amsterdam.

There is a buzz moving through the culture, as the public attitudes around cannabis use are rapidly shifting, that the legalization of marijuana in some states, particularly California, is a growing possibility.

Recent polling by Zogby in May demonstrated that a majority of Americans, say it "makes sense to tax and regulate" marijuana. The Zogby poll, commissioned by the conservative-oriented O'Leary Report, found 52 percent in favor of legalization, only 37 percent opposed. As Ryan Grim reports on the Huffington Post , a previous ABC News/ Washington Post poll found 46 percent in support. In California, a Field Poll found 56 percent backing legalization and as a result California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for an open debate on legalization, all which suggest that American society may be reaching a tipping point when it comes to legal pot.

An array of new circumstances -- Democrats in power, economic recession leaving states starving for revenue that could come from taxing cannabis sales, less funds for law enforcement and Mexican drug operatives moving into the US to grow huge amounts of untaxed pot, contributing to the horrible drug violence South of the Border -- support the growing public support for legalization of pot.

Anther element perhaps pushing changes to our pot laws is the gaggle of strange bed fellows who are outspoken on the issue. Former Secretary of State George Shultz and the late conservative economist Milton Friedman have been for legalization for years. But recently Fox News' latest conservative wild man Glenn Beck and CNN's much more reasonable Jack Cafferty have publicly questioned the billions spent each year fighting the endless war against drugs. They are joining the growing chorus that suggest it now makes more financial and social sense to tax and regulate marijuana.

At the epicenter of legal pot talk and strategic political action is Richard Lee, a highly successful pot entrepreneur, who over the past decade has turned the "uptown" entertainment area of downtown Oakland, California into what many call Oaksterdam, a play on Amsterdam, their sister city in Holland. A centerpiece of the Oakland transformation is Oaksterdam University which Lee founded to prepare people for jobs in the cannabis industry. As he told MSNBC, "my basic idea is to professionalize the industry, and have it taken seriously just like beer and distilling hard liquor." The University, along with half a dozen other "cannabis businesses," controlled by Lee bring thousands of visitors to Oakland daily.

California Pot Legalization Initiative

And it was Richard Lee who raised eyebrows among many last week, including some in the "drug reform establishment," when he announced an effort to qualify for the California statewide ballot in November of 2010, The Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, the first major statewide initiative designed to legalize marijuana for personal use.

Lee and TaxCannabis2010.org, the newly minted organization he started to push the initiative, calls for the legalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal possession by adults 21 and older, and allows cities and counties the option of regulating sales and cultivation. The legal amount would be 1 ounce for personal possession, with cultivation allowed in a space no larger than 5 feet by 5 feet.

Lee feels very strongly that the tide has turned among the public as the polls indicate. "This will be a landmark opportunity that will generate interest and funds nationwide," he said. If successful, the initiative will be viewed as a watershed "a first step in changing federal law."

Lee's group plans to send the initiative to California Attorney General Jerry Brown in July for the summary and title oversight required by law. Signature gathering will begin in August, with 650,000 signatures required by January to make the November 2010 ballot. An efficient political operation, with paid signature gatherers, as well as thousands of volunteers is expected.

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