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Legalized marijuana measure gets closer to ballot in Oregon

By Shelby Sebens

PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - Advocates of legal marijuana in Oregon have gathered more than the required number of signatures to get a measure on the November ballot that would permit recreational use of the drug by adults, organizers said on Tuesday. 

New Approach Oregon said the group had collected over 100,000 signatures - more than the 87,213 needed by July 3 - for the proposed ballot measure that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in the state. 

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but voters in Washington state and Colorado in 2012 became the first to approve recreational use for adults. Alaska voters will decide on the issue in August.

Some 20 states and the District of Columbia permit pot use by patients with a doctor's prescription.

"We are continuing to collect signatures," said New Approach spokesman Peter Zuckerman. "We want to ensure the measure qualifies and has a big-enough cushion." 

Oregon decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s. In 1998, it became one of the first U.S. states to sanction medical marijuana, although its estimated 200 dispensaries operated in a legal gray zone until state lawmakers passed a law last year to regulate them.

Oregonians rejected a legal marijuana ballot measure in 2012, and lawmakers during the last session declined to put the issue to a vote. 

Zuckerman said national opinion on marijuana was moving in the group's favor. "It's time for a smarter approach, a safer approach that will control marijuana use, that will protect children and communities and generate money," he said. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon lent its support to the campaign on Tuesday, saying taxpayers' money was being wasted on arresting and prosecuting marijuana users.

"It's time to be honest about that and take a path that makes sense," David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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