It was a historic hearing at the State House in Trenton Monday as the State Senate Judiciary Committee held its first ever hearing on legalizing marijuana.

Marijuana (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Only those in favor of the idea testified. Panel chairman, State Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden) said opponents will get their chance sometime in the future. He also said legalizing pot could generate as much as $1 billion for the State of New Jersey.

“It is time to stop arresting New Jerseyans for an activity that the majority of Americans believe should be legal,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It is time to tax, regulate and legalize marijuana for adults in New Jersey.”

The committee only took testimony. Members did not consider any particular bill, but Scutari is the sponsor of a measure (S-1896) that would legalize the possession and personal use of up to an ounce of marijuana for people age 21 and over. People would also be able to legally grow up to six pot plants. The bill was introduced in March of 2014 and has never had a hearing.

“I think marijuana is a gateway drug. I think it sends the wrong message to our youth,” said State Sen. Mike Doherty (R-Washington). “On the one hand we’re saying avoid cigarettes and avoid alcohol, but we’re embracing marijuana.”

Marijuana is already legal for all uses in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released in June revealed that 58 percent of Garden State residents supported the idea to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

In addition to his gateway drug argument, Doherty also talked about the health dangers associated with pot use, but New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors’ Association president Jon-Henry Barr downplayed both factors.

“I have never taken anyone to a hospital in ambulance due to a marijuana overdose,” Barr said. “The only time marijuana plays a gateway role is when drug dealers on the street corners use marijuana sales as a gateway to selling New Jerseyans harder drugs.”

The possibility of generating upwards of $1 billion dollars did nothing to sway Doherty’s opposition to the idea of legalizing pot. He called it another New Jersey sin tax.

“Is that the way to get prosperity? Put a lot of sins out there and then you can go ahead and solve all our problems,” Doherty asked.

Gov. Chris Christie’s office did not offer comment on the hearing, but instead directed reporters to the governor past statements. He has called revenue generated through pot legalization “blood money.”

“I don’t care about the tax money that may come from it and I don’t care quite frankly that people think it is inevitable,” said Christie during the April 2015 edition of Townsquare Media’s ‘Ask The Governor’ program on NJ 101.5 (see the video below).

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.

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