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NJ Lawmakers Advance Bill Legalizing Marijuana

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBS/AP) — New Jersey legislators advanced a measure to legalize recreational cannabis. A joint Democrat-led Assembly and Senate committee on Monday voted to send the legislation for a floor vote after more than four hours of debate in a standing-room-only crowd.

"It's going to stimulate the economy in New Jersey like nothing ever has before," said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill.

Some predict marijuana could become a billion-dollar industry and at a 12 percent tax rate, a new source for government revenue. Another argument for legalization is addressing social justice by not having low-level drug charges affecting people's criminal records, especially in minority communities.

"In New Jersey, blacks are arrested at a rate that is 3 times higher than whites despite similar usage rates," said Diana Houenou with the ACLU of New Jersey.

But even within the Democratic Party, which is pushing for legalization, there are big differences in opinion about whether minorities really benefit.

"We're implying that if you do legalization that black folk don't get locked up, that's not true. In Colorado the number of black folks being arrested is 3 times greater than whites under legalization, cause you get locked up in both cases," said Sen Ron Rice (D-Essex), who opposes the bill.

A law enforcement panel testified against legalization citing among their safety concerns: impaired driving.

Mental health advocate and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who resides in New Jersey, passionately warned about the negative effects children could face with an incoming wave of marijuana products and advertising.

"What in the world makes you think you can keep this horse in the barn and keep them from actively marketing to kids? Because understand that's their profit motive is getting new consumers," said Kennedy.

Ultimately both the Assembly and Senate Committee passed the bill to their full chambers which are expected to vote in the coming weeks.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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