Susan K. Livio reports for NJ.com:
The hardy Hemp plant for centuries was used to make clothing, rope, bath products and paper -- until the federal government strictly regulated it 71 years ago, then banned it in 1970 along with its genetic relative, marijuana. It was a bad rap for hemp because consuming it will not get anyone high, state Assemblyman Reed Gusciora D-Mercer told the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Thursday. Hemp contains only trace amounts of weed's psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol.
"To allay anyone's fears, (hemp) is the cousin of marijuana, but it absolutely has no psychotropic value," Gusciora said.
The committee approved Gusciora's bill (A1330), which would give the Attorney General's Office and the Department of Agriculture the authority to license hemp farmers. New Jersey would join the 15 states that already permit licensed hemp cultivation, he said.
Gusciora first sponsored a hemp farming bill in 2012, but it withered and died. Gusciora said Democratic leaders knew then-Gov. Chris Christie would never sign it into law because of his antipathy toward marijuana legalization.
Although pot has hurt hemp's reputation historically, Gusciora said he hopes Gov. Phil Murphy's desire to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older finally will give hemp a chance.
"Giving New Jersey farmers the right to compete this industry -- which is worth about half a billion dollars in the United States -- starts with this common-sense legislation. New Jersey has lagged behind on providing economic opportunity to our robust farming industry," Gusciora, one of the prime sponsor of a marijuana legalization bill, said following the committee hearing.
"The growth of hemp will ignite manufacturing opportunity of numerous products within our state, providing well-paying jobs and new opportunities for businesses to expand and develop."Hemp also could provide a "parallel" opportunity for farmers should the state legalize marijuana, Gusciora said. Agricultural schools could capitalize on research opportunities, he added.
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