Marijuana Could be NJ Farmers’ New Crop

New Jersey farmers, including some in this area, see a chance to add an important new crop now that the state has legalized medical marijuana.

“We would all like to grow it because we think it would be a good cash crop — literally,” Fairfield nurseryman Roger Ruske said.

The New Jersey Farm Bureau, a trade group for agriculture, has looked into the issue in depth and found good news and problems with the idea.

New Jersey last month adopted a law allowing medical use of marijuana.

Farm Bureau research associate Ed Wengryn said the legislation isn’t written clearly enough for the state Department of Health and Senior Services to write regulations. “But I will say there are growers interested in it — but they’re interested in the concept,” Wengryn said.

“(Whether) the economics work in the long run is really going to be the driving factor, because the price isn’t going to be set by market conditions,” he said. “There is no market. You can compare it to street value, but you can only go so much above street value for people.”

There is something else farmers need to consider. They may face stiff competition from another major industry in the state.

Wengryn said the pharmaceutical industry is in a good position to bogart the marijuana business if it chooses to try.

Drug firms aren’t well known for having green thumbs, but they actually have research farms that could be converted. They also have the experienced staff and the money to negotiate their ways through government bureaucracies.

“They would be competing with farmers,” Wengryn said. “I think they would be in a better position to go through the hoops.”

Whoever gets the business, the first harvest isn’t likely for a few years, if only because of the need to research and write regulations.

Alfred W. Murray, assistant agriculture secretary and director of the state Division of Marketing and Development, fielded a question about medical marijuana at a Greater Vineland Chamber of Commerce event here last week.

Murray was part of a four-member panel talking about agriculture and land conservation issues to a luncheon audience Thursday.

Toward the end of a question-and-answer session, a Chamber member said some members wondered how the law would be implemented.

Murray joked of a sudden interest among college students to intern at his department.

The director said the law charges the state health department with most of the administrative work.

“Our role will be to regulate the plants,” Murray said, adding to laughter, “I don’t know how we’re going to test it.”

Donna Leusner, a department spokeswoman, said research into how to run the program is in very preliminary stages.

That includes whether the marijuana could be imported.

“No decisions have been made,” Leusner stated. “No regulations have been written. The department is researching how similar programs operate in other states.”

According to Murray, there will be no field growing of marijuana. Everything would be done in secured greenhouses, he said.

Plus, Wengryn said, no one knows how much legal pot will be needed.

“The medical community is really split on this,” he said. “If you have a chronic disease, this is going to be a way to alleviate. But for people who have a treatable condition, are doctors going to prescribe this? I don’t think so.”

On a related issue, the Farm Bureau has a higher priority for another crop with a popular pharmaceutical property.

“The one we would like to see permitted is industrial hemp,” Wengryn said. “The industrial hemp is a good industrial product.”

The government’s problem with hemp is that it can be used as a drug. The industrial variety is relatively weak as a drug source, though.

“It’s a very green and renewable source of strong fiber,” Wengryn said. “That is something we do have a policy on. We would like that looked into.”

– Article from The Daily Journal. on February 22, 2010.