N.J. Legislature moves one step closer to legalizing recreational marijuana

 Three types of marijuana buds are shown at Med Grow Cannabis College in Southfield, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, file)

Three types of marijuana buds are shown at Med Grow Cannabis College in Southfield, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, file)

Two key committees in the New Jersey Legislature have approved bills to legalize recreational marijuana and allow past offenders to expunge their criminal records.

Gov. Phil Murphy and top Democrats in the Legislature have long agreed on legalization in principle but had been negotiating the details of such legislation for months.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee held votes on the two bills late Monday night, following hours of delays and last-minute amendments to the legislation.

“It’s just nuts that we are not finally recognizing that people are not going to stop utilizing marijuana,” said State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union. “It’s not going to happen!”

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Although the bills passed in committee, it is unclear whether there will be enough votes for the legislation to pass in the full Senate and Assembly, where votes are scheduled for next Monday.

Adults age 21 and older would be able to buy as much as an ounce of marijuana under the law, and those with past criminal records for marijuana possession would be able to get a clean slate.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, said people with prior marijuana convictions have lived with a scarlet letter — until now.

“It has impacted their housing, it has impacted their work, and it has impacted school,” Quijano said. “So we’re giving back individuals their future.”

While Murphy has said he supports recreational marijuana legalization for social justice reasons, the Democrat has also predicted millions of dollars in tax revenue from the industry in his next budget.

Still, opposition to the idea remains strong among some Democrats and many Republicans.

Before voting against the proposal, State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, said New Jersey is already dealing with a litany of social ills and advised against adding another.

“We have alcohol abuse, opioid abuse. We have fatherlessness. We have inner city crime, public schools that don’t work. We have an obesity epidemic. We have a pornography epidemic,” Doherty said.

New Jersey already allows people to buy marijuana for medical use.

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