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Washington legal pot effort has enough signatures for vote -chairman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Backers of legal marijuana in Washington have enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum that faces potential hurdles in Congress, the initiative's head said on Tuesday.

Adam Eidinger, chairman of the DC Cannabis Campaign, said it had collected more than 55,000 signatures to put the measure on a Nov. 4 ballot in the U.S. capital, well above the 22,373 required by law.

"We really have a nice cushion of extra signatures, so this should qualify for the ballot," he said.

The petition is part of a U.S. trend to reduce penalties for marijuana. The proposed measure would allow people 21 and older to possess up to 2 ounces (56 grams) of marijuana for personal use.

They also could grow up to three plants at home. The legislation does not allow for the sale of marijuana.

The referendum could face opposition from Congress, which under the U.S. Constitution has oversight power over the District of Columbia.

The Republican-controlled Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives last week moved to block a District law that would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce (28 grams) of pot.

The House committee approved a spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending money to legalize or reduce penalties for marijuana.

Under the bill, the elections board could be barred from printing ballots that include the marijuana legalization measure.

Eidinger said he was hopeful the Democrat-controlled Senate would remove the marijuana amendment. The November election likely would take place before the spending bill went through Congress and was signed by President Barack Obama, he said.

Eidinger said the legalization petition had received its strongest support in black sections of Washington. A study by the American Civil Liberties Union has shown that blacks in the city are eight times more likely to be arrested for pot than people of other races.

The legalization campaign will submit the signatures to the District of Columbia Board of Elections on Monday.

Two U.S. states, Washington and Colorado, allow recreational marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law. Voters in Alaska are slated to vote on legalization in November.

Supporters of an Oregon initiative to legalize recreational marijuana said last week they had submitted enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.[ID:nL2N0P7294]

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Jim Loney)

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