Gardener News: Hemp Could Be the Garden State’s New Cash Crop

Marijuana might be the hot topic of today’s politics, but the legalization of hemp - cannabis’s non-psychoactive cousin - is an issue of equal or even greater importance that’s mostly snuck under the radar. That’s partly because hemp, unlike cannabis, is more suited to industrial than recreational use - and partly because, as of the 2018 federal Farm Bill and the 2019 New Jersey Hemp Farming Act, it’s now (mostly) legal.

If you’re not familiar with hemp, it's a strain of the cannabis plant that is grown specifically for industrial use. It doesn’t need a lot of rain or wet soil to thrive, and produces a much higher yield than cotton. It’s naturally pest-resistant, and naturally aerates the soil with carbon dioxide as it grows.

It was one of the first plants that humans ever spun into usable fiber, and its applications today range from medicines to cosmetics, automobiles, furniture, textiles, food, beverages, and construction supplies. The biggest usage by far is the CBD (cannabidiol) oil that can be extracted from the plant, serving as a dietary supplement, an antioxidant, and more.

Containing no more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, hemp or its byproducts can't get you high. Unfortunately, the wide-reaching net of the War on Drugs left a black mark on this helpful little weed, leaving it off-limits for American farms and factories while a worldwide hemp industry flourished.

These days, though, things are looking up. The federal 2018 Farm Bill, signed by President Trump, allowed states to start legalizing domestic production of hemp and hemp products. This past summer, our Assembly Agriculture Committee approved New Jersey’s 2019 Hemp Farming Act - legislation that was then unanimously passed and swiftly signed into law, paving the way for Garden State farmers to enter this lucrative market.

New Jerseyan hemp farmers can now enjoy the same protections as conventional farmers, from crop insurance to legal interstate travel and banking services. Whether you need to access a hemp processor across state lines or obtain loans or capital investment for a new hemp farm, those doors are now open.

This versatile and profitable plant has a real potential to encourage new business development, boost our economy, and bolster the livelihoods of New Jersey’s farmers. Between climate change, trade wars, and a shifting economy, a sustainable and flexible domestic crop like hemp can go a long way toward helping farmers keep up with our evolving agricultural landscape.

There’s one catch, though - you need to be a proper (i.e., licensed) hemp farmer to grow this product. If you’re a homeowner or hobbyist, planting hemp seeds in your garden or greenhouse are off-limits for now. And if you’re looking to become authorized, you’ll have to wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to shift into motion.

That’s because, in order to authorize any new hemp farmers, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture needs to adopt new regulations governing the new law’s implementation. These rules have to then be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture - and unfortunately, we’re still waiting on the USDA’s regulatory guidelines.

Still, if you think hemp looks like a good opportunity for you and your business, now might be a good time to start a conversation with business partners and legal counsel about whether hemp is right for you - and if it is, what steps you’ll need to take in order to incorporate it into your current model. And if you have any questions about regulatory requirements, feel free to contact me - I’ll do my best to connect you with the right people.

As the Garden State, I know that New Jersey will be at the forefront of this new opportunity. And in the meantime, I’m excited to see where this burgeoning industry will go.

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