What is hemp, and why is NJ just getting involved now?
It's basically impossible to get high or feel any psychological effects from smoking hemp — a member of the cannabis family — but farmers in New Jersey remain barred from growing the plant.
That's likely to change very soon as the state fleshes out plans to establish an industrial hemp pilot program, in response to a bill a signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in November.
Lumped in with marijuana, hemp has been banned for decades under federal law. Only with approved legislation can individual states examine hemp's potential for success by attempting to grow the crop.
New Jersey's law directs the Department of Agriculture to create a program that would research the cultivation of hemp crops to the maximum extent permitted by federal law.
Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher said there's been a growing interest in hemp among farmers throughout the state. Prior to the bill's passage, the state had sent staffers to other parts of the country to examine the industry. Dozens of states implemented pilot program laws ahead of the Garden State.
"We're in the early stages of what a pilot program will look like in New Jersey," Fisher said. "We're going to move as fast as we can to get this program up and running,"
Fisher said the state wants to make sure it has "good seed" — an issue encountered elsewhere in the U.S.
Hemp is said to have over 25,000 applications. The plant can be used in clothing, construction materials, skin products, and a wide range of other products.
"It could be a really interesting alternative crop for our farmers, and we've got to take advantage of it," said state Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, an original sponsor of the measure.
O'Scanlon said hemp has long been misunderstood, and anyone who doesn't support the cash crop isn't doing their homework.
"The people who believe you can get high off industrial hemp are just dead wrong — or maybe even high," he said.
THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana's psychological effects, makes up anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of a standard marijuana product. The maximum THC level of hemp is 0.3 percent.