TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Whether New Jersey should legalize the recreational use of marijuana is at the center of a legislative hearing.

The judiciary committee is hearing from clergy, health professionals, law enforcement officials and other policy experts in Trenton.

State Senate judiciary committee chairman Nicholas Scutari said Monday it’s time to bring the drug out of the underground economy, noting that legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana could create a billion dollar industry.

He said legalizing the drug would be a long process.

Last week, he introduced a bill that would make using marijuana legal for people 21 and older, as long as it’s not used in public.

“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 last Tuesday.

Marijuana has been legalized for all uses in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska and for medical use in nearly 20 others, including New Jersey.

New Jersey’s medical marijuana law is among the most restrictive, with patients and doctors required to register with the state and each pay a $200 fee. There are five dispensaries. A sixth is pending.

The hearing comes as lawmakers face a lame-duck session of the Legislature and as Gov. Chris Christie spends time outside New Jersey campaigning for the Republican nomination for president.

Some of the big question marks center on tax dollars, business growth, security and whether banks would participate.

“We’re going to have a model to measure from to see what’s good, what’s bad,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said. “Is it the right decision? Is it not the right decision? But we’ll have enough information to make an informed decision.”

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