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Marijuana legalization qualifies for Colorado ballot

DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado voter initiative that would legalize adult possession of marijuana for personal recreational use qualified on Monday for the state's November ballot, state officials said, despite staunch opposition from the federal government.

A similar measure earned a place last month on the Washington state ballot, but legalization of pot for recreational purposes was defeated by California voters in 2010.

The latest moves to decriminalize marijuana at the state level face opposition from the federal government, which still classifies pot as an illegal narcotic.

Colorado is one of 16 states, along with the District of Columbia, that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Under a medical marijuana law enacted in 2000, Colorado maintains a registry of more than 80,000 card-carrying patients and rules governing how physicians and distributors operate.

However, federal prosecutors launched a crackdown last month against nearly two dozen medical marijuana dispensaries located within 1,000 feet of schools, giving proprietors 45 days to cease operations or face civil and criminal penalties. That deadline was to lapse at the end of the day on Monday.

Proponents of legalized recreational possession initially submitted more than 163,000 signatures on a petition to place their measure on the ballot, but the state's secretary of state declared the petition insufficient on February 3.

Advocates submitted an additional 14,000 signatures two weeks ago, and after a second review, the state certified that the proposal would qualify for the general election ballot on November 6, 2012.

Voters defeated a previous ballot measure to legalize pot for recreational purposes in 2006. But proponents see momentum on their side, citing an October 2011 Gallop Poll that found a record 50 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana use, up from 36 percent five years earlier.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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