Rob Theryoung was on one of the 106 teams of applicants vying for a new alternative treatment center license in 2018. Though his group’s bid proved unsuccessful, he saw the conversations it opened up as an opportunity to get into making cannabidiol creams, tinctures, and gummies.
“I had a lot of friends asking about different products. There are tons of terrible products out there, and I just saw so much garbage,” Theryoung said. “I just decided to create a company of my own that I could feel comfortable recommending to friends and family.”
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is an active ingredient in hemp plants, and a bill approving an industrial hemp pilot program passed in the state Legislature in September. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill on Nov. 21 tasking the Department of Agriculture with creating a regulatory framework around the new program, drumming up interest in businesspeople like Theryoung.
Six months later, that framework has yet to be released, in part because the 2018 federal Farm Bill — which provides for the commercial production, marketing and sale of hemp throughout the U.S. and removes it from the Class 1 substance list — that was signed three weeks after the New Jersey bill.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-3rd District, introduced Assembly Bill 5322 on May 13 to establish a program on paper to catch up with the 2018 Farm Bill and to override the more limited Assembly Bill 1330.
“It’s a huge difference [between A5322 and the A1330]. We go from limitations of the pilot program to having this crop grown wherever it makes commercial sense,” Burzichelli said. “It’s housekeeping, catching up with what Washington has decided to do.”
When New Jersey became the 39th state to legalize a hemp program in November, many other states already had thousands of acres in cultivation under the 2014 Farm Bill guidelines. The earlier Farm Bill put hemp, which hadn’t been planted for 50 years with the exception of in North Dakota, under the aegis of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, Colorado’s 386 licensed hemp growers have 12,042 outdoor acres and 2.35 million square feet of cultivation indoors. Kentucky’s 209 licensed hemp growers and 43 licensed processors have 3,200 acres planted, and an additional 9,600 licensed for growth.
So if those states can grow and sell hemp already, what’s the hold up in New Jersey?
“[In the 2018 Farm Bill] the federal administration for hemp also passed from the DEA to the USDA which is required to develop guidelines to administer the program and approve hemp proposals by each state,” a representative from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture explained. “In the absence of these USDA guidelines, for this season, states with existing industrial hemp programs are allowed to continue their current programs in the interim.”
The USDA has said it will begin reviewing state rule proposals – including from New Jersey – this fall after the agency proposes its own hemp regulations.
Meanwhile, New Jersey’s wannabe hemp farmers and hopeful CBD or hemp product purveyors have had to think beyond New Jersey products and labor.
“I had to do my thing and move past where to source from New Jersey,” said Theryoung, opting for what he called a great supplier in Kentucky. ”When you’re slow to adopt and regulate properly, you kind of get left behind. Even if they did it now, we’ve already found a provider, that opportunity [to find a New Jersey provider] is behind us at this point for a while.”
Ken VandeVrede is a third generation farmer in Pequannock and the CEO of HillviewCBD, which makes CBD gummies and tinctures. He started his business earlier this year with the expectation that he would be able to grow his own hemp this season, but without regulations, he can’t deepen his New Jersey roots.
“We have infrastructure set up to seed and propagate hemp inside our greenhouse structures and in the field, but without us having a provisional license or license, we can’t seed. If we don’t get it in the ground by June 30, there is no harvest here in New Jersey for a whole year,” VandeVrede said.
Currently, HillviewCBD sources its CBD from a facility in Colorado.
“Until New Jersey gets their licenses in order, we’re sending all of our jobs outside of state for producing and our products,” VandeVrede explained. More recently, we’re working on extracting water soluble CBD, and we’re working in New York for extraction. Collectively we’re outsourcing probably 25 jobs to New York and Colorado.”
With the overwhelming support the current industrial hemp pilot program bill had in the legislature, A5322 should move through pretty quickly, Burzichelli said. And then with the efficiency brought by change in hands from federal regulation to state regulation, hemp will become another cash crop for New Jersey farmers to consider after this year.
“I think [the Department of Agriculture] can be more nimble once they get the base from the feds,” Burzichelli said. “Once they get a green light, I think they’re going to be able to act faster. They know the farming community from tip to tip in the state.”
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture is giving this issue the highest priority, a spokesperson said.