Hemp: A New Crop for New Jersey?

Hemp A New Crop for New Jersey

New Jersey seemed poised to become the next state to approve industrial hemp as a legal agricultural crop. On January 13th, the State’s Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 3110, which would have allowed the licensing of industrial hemp. The bill was then passed by the State’s Assembly by a crushing vote of 65-8.

“This is an economic engine for our state and an industry which we really must tap into and utilize,” said bill sponsor and State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. “This bill will benefit not only our economy, but our local farmers and environment.”

Dead at the Desk! What’s Next?

The voting done; the bill was sent to the desk of Governor Chris Christie for his signature. And it did not cross that bridge, as the governor rejected it on January 21st — along with 43 other bills. No reason was given, though pundits note that Governor Christie has vetoed 164 bills in the last legislative session, which is considered to be rather high.

With the legwork done, it is expected that the legislation will be reintroduced in the next legislative session. Governors come and governors go.

If and when a revived bill passes, the state’s Secretary of Agriculture would then develop a regulatory framework, including licensing, fingerprinting and criminal background checks for license applicants. One caveat is that the state’s licensing would still be dependent on either a license issued by the federal authorities or for an exemption of hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

In Washington DC, “The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013” remains in circulation on Capitol Hill. A companion bill has been introduced in the US Senate. The New Jersey legislature has passed a resolution urging the adaptation of a similar, previous bill.

How Hemp Fits

Farming is still an important industry in the Garden State, despite urbanization and development that has seen a loss of about a quarter of the state’s arable land since the 1980’s. Agriculture ranks third in importance to the state’s economy, behind pharmaceuticals and tourism. The state is enviably close to many larger urban markets and has a high valued-added manufacturing capacity. New Jersey’s estimated 1,000 farms produce food and other products worth almost $1 billion.

Estimates of the US hemp market vary ranging from $100 million worth of annual imports to $500 million dollars at the retail cash register, accounting for such traditional products as textile, clothing and twine, to fast growing food and body care products as well as emerging markets such as composites and building materials.

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