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New Jersey lawmaker plans to introduce bill to legalize marijuana

A home-grown marijuana plant is seen at an undisclosed location in Israel January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A home-grown marijuana plant is seen at an undisclosed location in Israel January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Dave Warner

(Reuters) - A top New Jersey legislator on Monday said he planned to introduce a bill to legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, setting the stage for conflict with Governor Chris Christie, who is a staunch opponent.

State Senator Nicholas Scutari said he plans to introduce a bill to legalize the sale of pot to adults over 21, following the lead of Washington state and Colorado, which last year legalized marijuana use by adults.

"The drug laws in this country prohibiting the use and possession of marijuana have failed miserably," said Scutari, a Democrat.

His move flies in the face of the position of Christie, a Republican, who just last week voiced opposition to the idea at a meeting with voters.

"What I'm not willing to consider is decriminalization, legalization or recreational use," said Christie, a likely 2016 White House contender who is in the first year of his second term as governor.

Democrats control both chambers of the New Jersey statehouse.

Christie last year signed a bill making medical marijuana available in some circumstances. About 20 U.S. states allow marijuana to be prescribed for medical purposes, typically pain relief.

Two Rhode Island lawmakers last month introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Scutari's bill would provide for possession of up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana and permit growing up to six marijuana plants.

"It will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades," Scutari said.

He said his system could raise considerable revenue for the state, noting that Colorado could get $107 million in taxes from pot sales this year, and would save millions in enforcement costs.

"We spend over $100 million a year enforcing these failed laws," he said.

(Reporting by Dave Warner in Philadelphia; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)

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