SYDNEY, July 12 (UPI) -- In a few months, farmers in the Australian state of New South Wales could be growing industrial hemp, a close relative of the plant that produces marijuana.
Most other Australian states already allow hemp cultivation. Under the New South Wales law, farmers cannot grow the plant if they have a criminal record, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
The state banned hemp cultivation for 60 years out of fear that farmers could hide marijuana plants among the hemp. Now, with much of the state in drought, officials are more concerned with finding a cash crop that needs little water.
"It is a potentially lucrative industrial industry because farmers will have the option of another fast-growing summer crop that can be used in rotation with winter grain crops," Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said.
Ross Browning of Narromine, who participated in a pilot hemp-growing project, said someone stole part of his crop and sold it as marijuana. When the seller got caught, he informed on Browning, and police then tested samples from his fields.
"When it came back with almost no THC reading, I was off the hook, but the thief was still in trouble," Browning said.