Bill to legalize marijuana in NJ takes first step at statehouse

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TRENTON -

A proposed bill to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey took its first step toward potentially becoming law on Monday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the new bill, which could become law in just six months.

Gov. Chris Christie leaves office in six months, so supporters of the bill see early 2018 as their first window to possibly legalize the drug.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) is the author of the bill (S3195) and has taken trips to Colorado to study the process of legalizing the drug in that state. He said that legalizing marijuana for New Jersey could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

The bill would decriminalize possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana for people who are 21 and older and expunge the records of people with possession charges.

One senator Monday called marijuana a “gateway drug,” and Christie slammed the bill as an effort to "poison our kids." The governor said data shows children who use marijuana are more likely to be heroin users by the time they're 24.

During the hearing, senators questioned advocates about how much marijuana impairs judgment and affects children's developing brains.

“The time has come to end the prohibition of marijuana in the state of New Jersey. Marijuana prohibition began in the 1930s over the objections of the American Medical Association based on scare tactics and fabricated evidence that suggested that the drug was highly addictive, made users violent and was fatal in overdose. We now know that none of those assertions are true,” said Dr. David Nathan, founder and board president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation.

Much of the bill’s future depends on whether Democrats take the governor's office in November. Democratic candidate Phil Murphy supports legalization, but Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno does not.

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