Lumped in with marijuana, hemp had been banned for decades under federal law. Still, farming leaders in the Garden State, for years now, have been examining the prospects of growing and processing the plant here, just in case it should get the green light.

They were right to do so, as the state scraps plans to establish a pilot program for hemp and create a permanent program through which individuals can cultivate, handle or process the plant, a member of the cannabis family that lacks the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

"We have a lot of interest by a number of growers," said Douglas Fisher, New Jersey's secretary of Agriculture. "We've been fielding calls for months now."

Fisher said those interested in working with industrial hemp — which is said to have over 25,000 reported uses, such as oils, food and clothing — range from established farmers who want to add the product to their crop list, to individuals interested in using hemp to get their feet in the farming business.

Legislation signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this month gets the ball rolling on a state plan for hemp, which would include, among other things, a procedure to maintain information on hemp producers, as well as provisions for the inspection and testing of the product.

"Rules are under review, and then we have to submit our plan to Washington," Fisher said.

The new law replaces a planned pilot program in the state, signed by Murphy in November. A month later, President Donald Trump signed legislation removing hemp from the list of controlled substances.

Hemp farmers would have to be registered with the state Department of Agriculture, Fisher said.

A farmer's hemp crop would be tested periodically for its level of THC, the chemical responsible for getting users high. It cannot go above 0.3 percent; three violations in five years would result in a ban from growing.

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