A measure that would change the way New Jersey's criminal justice system deals with nonviolent drug offenders is one step closer to becoming law.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved the bill Monday by a 9-0 vote. It now heads to the full Assembly for its consideration.

The measure mandates that nonviolent drug offenders receive treatment rather than a jail sentence. It phases in a statewide program over a five-year period, beginning with at least three counties in the first year.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, one of the bill's sponsors, initially proposed a two-county pilot program to give authorities a chance to assess the effectiveness of mandatory treatment.

Gov. Chris Christie has proposed mandatory drug court statewide for people who qualify.

Participation in drug court is currently voluntary.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)