Legal marijuana for N.J. takes a huge step forward. We now expect final votes next week.

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New Jersey took another big step toward legal weed on Monday, as two state legislative committees approved a new bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State, setting up historic votes in the full state Legislature next week.

The committees took hours to vote after lawmakers wrangled over last-minute changes to the measure behind closed doors at the Statehouse in Trenton.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill with a vote 6-4, with one abstention, after 8 p.m. The state Assembly Appropriations Committee earlier approved it in a 6-2 vote, with two abstentions. Lawmakers also approved a separate expungement bill and a medical marijuana expansion bill.

The full Senate and Assembly must now pass the bill before Gov. Phil Murphy — a major proponent of legal pot — can sign it. But the votes to secure legalization remain elusive.

As of Monday afternoon, leaders were still a handful votes short of what’s needed. Murphy, who has been criticized in recent days for not doing enough to whip up votes, ramped up his calls to lawmakers on Monday in an effort to swing some votes, two sources with knowledge of the situation told NJ Advance Media. [Read more at NJ.com]

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