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Marijuana an issue in California A.G. race

SACRAMENTO — A Republican fighting to unseat California's incumbent attorney general has adopted the unconventional strategy of seeking to legalize recreational marijuana as the centerpiece of his uphill campaign.

Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, meanwhile, has softened her opposition to recreational pot as she seeks a second and final term as the state's top law enforcement official.

"The circumstances have changed. Now Colorado and Washington have done it," said Harris, who spoke out against California's failed Proposition 19 legalization measure when she first ran for statewide office in 2010.

California should wait to see how those states deal with such complex issues as open-air use that can lead to contact highs among bystanders who had no intention of inhaling, Harris said in a telephone interview.

Regulating the contents and marketing of marijuana-laced edible products is another issue, as evidenced by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's recent Colorado candy bar overdose. Eating pot can produce different effects than smoking it, Harris said, and some edibles are attractive to children.

Republican nominee Ron Gold, a former deputy attorney general, said California should follow Colorado's lead by making marijuana legal and restricting its use to people over 21, imposing a tax and regulating production and sales.

Pot use is largely a victimless crime that fills prisons and jails, empowers foreign cartels and saps time and money from more important law enforcement priorities, Gold said.

"I think it's an issue whose time has come," Gold said.

Harris, a former two-term San Francisco district attorney, has focused her crime-fighting efforts on cross-border gangs that she said are increasingly engaged in high-tech crimes such as digital piracy and computer hacking to target businesses and financial institutions.

Harris drew national attention when she helped negotiate a national bank settlement with major mortgage lenders and secured extra funding for California. A personal friend of President Barack Obama, she is widely viewed as an eventual candidate for governor or U.S. senator should she win re-election.

Gold is a self-described political novice and "last man standing" among six challengers in the June primary election. He is an attorney in Woodland Hills who worked for Attorney General Evelle Younger in the 1970s before going into private practice.

He had $3,300 in his campaign account at last report, compared to $3.6 million for Harris. Gold loaned his campaign $35,500, though he expects enough contributions to mount a challenge, including television advertising.

By contrast, Harris' campaign donor list includes prominent names from the worlds of tech, business and Hollywood. Among her donors are Halle Berry, Michael Douglas, Charlize Theron, Bill Maher and Kate Capshaw, billionaire Revlon chairman Ronald Perelman, HBO writer Aaron Sorkin and Ivanka Trump, daughter of real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump.

"Obviously, my contributions are more in the $25, $50, $100 range," Gold said. "We'll see if she's actually going to use her money or save it for the governor's race."

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