California: Odd Bedfellows in the Pro-Pot Ballot Initiative

An initiative to legalize marijuana in California will appear on the November ballot and both sides of the debate are wasting no time trying to smoke out the opposition.

But in an interesting wrinkle, California's pro-pot proponents are gaining support from some unlikely allies.

"We're definitely getting more support every day from people who haven't supported us in the past," says Richard Lee, the businessman and activist who led the effort that collected 690,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

A new nationwide poll by Pew Research Center suggests that opponents of legalized pot still comprise the majority (52 percent), and include the usual suspects: older Americans, conservatives and mothers of teenagers. In California, the state Republican party and the California Police Chiefs Association are just saying No to the ballot initiative.

Video: California to vote on legalizing pot.
Califorina will vote on weed

But supporters of the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act (note the careful omission of language such as "legalize" and "marijuana") say that this could be one way to help solve the state's crushing budget problems. The initiative would make it legal for anyone 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana and/or grow whatever can fit in a 5-by-5-foot plot. It would permit cities and counties to decide whether to allow sales and tax the proceeds.

This detail has won over surprising bedfellows, including members of the organized labor community, the state's chapter of the NAACP and some in the law enforcement community.

Lee credits the economy -- California's debt is up to 37 percent of its economic output, according to one calculation -- with providing a boost to his campaign. "It's history repeating itself," he tells ABC News. "Like [the repeal of] alcohol prohibition during the Great Depression, we now have the Great Recession."

Legalization Could Lead to Jobs for Organized Labor

Dan Rush of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union is careful to point out that his organization has not yet officially endorsed the ballot initiative. But after looking into the plan to tax and regulate the herb, Rush admits to liking what he sees.

"I believe it will create tens of thousands of sustainable, single-earner union jobs in the long run," he tells ABC News. "All the way from the agricultural process to the retail process to the food processing process to the transportation process."

Rush points to a California Board of Equalization analysis that estimates legalizing and taxing pot in California could yield $1.4 billion in revenue.

"That $1.4 billion in sales tax goes directly into the general fund," he says. "And California is closing schools, fire departments, emergency rooms, laying off the nurses, firefighters and police we can't afford to pay because we don't have any tax revenue."

Rush predicts that organized labor across the board will come out in official support of the initiative "some time around September or October" of this year.

Marijuana as a "Civil Rights Issue"

One group that has already come out in official support for the first time ever is the California NAACP. But instead of framing it as a jobs or revenue issue, California NAACP President Alice Huffman is painting it as a civil rights matter.

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