Cannabis will be legally planted under tight security in the north of the State to test the plant as an alternative source of fibre for paper and textile products.
The State Government said yesterday the immediate go-ahead for the planting of industrial-grade hemp at a site near Armidale by researchers with the University of New England.
If the trial is a success, farmers would be invited to apply for a small number of permits from February 1996.
Agriculture Minister Richard Amery emphasised the plant to be sown in the Armidale trial was "not of any use to anyone who wants to smoke it as a drug."
Industrial grade hemp has just .0003% of the high-inducing component, tetra-hydro-cannabinol, known as THC.
Its more common relative sold on the street has between 3 and 10% of the component.
"It's been estimated to me that a whole paddock of low THC cannabis could be smoked and all you would have would be the normal effect of smoking tabacco-type product," Mr Amery said.
Industrial-grade hemp is also easy to distinguish in a field, as it is planted in narrow rows that restrict foliage.
The benefits of the plant are its low cost of cultivation, natural resistance to insects and drought, and its ability to improve soil quality.
"It could provide a resource for pulp, paper and textiles," Mr Amery said.
The Agriculture Department has recieved 100 applications to plant hemp in the past year.
The NSW Farmers Association passed a motion calling for a legal hemp industry earlier this year, and the National Party has similarly called for the move.
Mr Amery said the approval for the trial should have been granted years ago due to the broad support for its introduction.
He attacked National Party Leader Ian Armstrong for the delay, claiming his "phobias" while Agriculture Minister stopped the move.
The plant has been cultivated in Europe for decades, and is already being trialed in South Australia and Tasmania.