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NJ Senator Proposes Bill To Legalize Recreational Use Of Marijuana

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Could New Jersey be the first Northeast state to legalize recreational use of marijuana?

That's the goal of one lawmaker, who said if it works out west, it can work here too.

As CBS2's Jessica Schneider reported, it is already growing and being sold in four states -- Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska -- plus Washington D.C.

Now, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari wants to make marijuana legal in New Jersey too.

"I think we need to change the entire ballgame and legalize it, regulate and tax it, so we can ensure the safety of our citizens, as well as garner the tax benefit," Scutari said.

The lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make using marijuana legal for people 21 and older as long as it's not used in public. And a Senate committee is now considering it.

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll in June showed 58 percent of people supported the idea, while 38 percent opposed it.

Medical marijuana is already legal in New Jersey under a law signed in 2010. But it's tightly regulated and only sold at licensed dispensaries.

Gov. Chris Christie is promising a veto if the bill to legalize all marijuana use ever comes to his desk, saying "This should not be permitted in our society. It sends the wrong message."

Dr. Kim Hoppes, Clinical Director at Hazelden Betty Ford Center, said the jury is still out on the long-term effects of the drug.

"I don't think there's been any clear studies about the long-term mental health effects. This is all relatively new," she said.

Hoppes said marijuana may not be deadly, but it can be addicting and dangerous.

"People with severe depression, particularly young adults, marijuana dependence can absolutely contribute to suicidal tendencies," she said.

But Scutari said the drug's success on the West Coast should be the barometer.

"Obviously we haven't seen any dire consequences from Colorado's legalization efforts," he said, adding the tax benefits would be enormous.

Though legalizing marijuana has not generated as much revenue as some state governments anticipated. Colorado reported $19 million in taxes through June -- about half of what the state expected.

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