As Florida Lays Groundwork For Coming Hemp Industry, Experts Weigh In On Regulation

May 31, 2019

A cookies and cream flavored protein bar marketed by JustCBD is displayed at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition trade show, Thursday, May 30, 2019 in New York.
Credit Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Florida’s Director of Cannabis thinks 2020 could be the state’s first “great grow year” for hemp. A bill launching a state hemp program is waiting for ink from the governor’s pen. Experts in the state and elsewhere have been weighing in this week on an industry that will be a new frontier in the Sunshine State.

To a crowd of businesspeople and entrepreneurs in Tallahassee, state cannabis director Holly Bell on Tuesday gave a mental picture of the procedure by which hemp becomes product. That includes hemp-infused skincare and hair products and CBD edibles, just to name a few.

“It is the cannabis plant, it has about a 4-month grow cycle. It is very photosensitive, meaning light-sensitive. So, you grow it, you pick it, you dry it, you process it down to a crude oil – that’s a sludgy, green-looking thing, not very appealing – that’s call full-spectrum,” Bell said. “Then you can run it through another machine and break it down into very specific isolates that they sell and put in products.”

Bell says growing permits for the state hemp program could be issued before the year is out. She adds it may be optimistic, but that could happen as early as late fall. First, the rules must be set in motion.

“Once we get our rules done, we’ll post them to the system called FAR (Florida Administrative Register), then the public can review them and make comments. The internal group will review them, make sure we’ve done our job. If we have no objections, then we can adopt our rules and start a program.”

But Bell is also concerned with safely regulating hemp for consumption. Also in the works, she says, is a framework for testing hemp grown by Florida farmers.

“Currently, there are no regulations in the state of Florida for that being tested,” Bell said. “The new bill will set into action a very specific requirement for that.”

Hemp farmers should also expect to give Bell and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services GPS coordinates of where they will grow and store their crop.

“Once a year you have to give me permission to come on your property also,” Bell said. “I’m going to come out and take a sample of your crop and I’m going to test it.”

And, Bell says, if your finished product is intended for human consumption, there will be additional regulations.

“The bill is very specific about what you have to do to sell in our state. You have to have a third party test that, you have to have a very specific label on your bottle that has a QRC code or a bar code that allows the consumer to go to a site where they can view your certificate, your COA that the lab is giving you,” Bell said, “verifying that your product is what you say it is, or what the label says it is.”

So, how important is accurate advertising on labels for CBD products? Bill Gurley, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas, studied a number of CBD products in Mississippi to find out if consumers are getting what’s been advertised to them.

“This study provides a snapshot of CBD product quality, or lack thereof, and is likely representative of the fraudulent nature of many, if not most, CBD products currently sold on the U.S. market,” Gurley said.

Gurley, who was one of many to present at the Food and Drug Administration’s first public hearing on CBD, says in many cases, people weren’t getting what they expected. The study looked at 25 products purchased from various stores in Mississippi, which were tested by law enforcement officials from the state’s Bureau of Narcotics.

“Now in most instances, product label claims misrepresented the actual CBD content within the product. Percent label claims ranged from indeterminate values, in other words there was no claim for CBD, to products that contained very little CBD, to others that far exceeded the label claim,” Gurley explained. “In one instance, the CBD content was almost 23 times greater than the content claimed on the label.”

CBD products typically come with the promise that they contain only a miniscule amount of THC, the compound in marijuana that gets you high. That usually amounts to about .3 percent or less of the product. But Gurley says his study found that isn’t always the case.

“In three instances, THC content exceeded .3 percent, with one product containing 45 percent THC,” Gurley said.

And Gurley called what he found in one product “disconcerting.”

“One product was adulterated with synthetic cannabinoid,” Gurley said.

Synthetic cannabinoids are the chemicals that create a euphoria in now-outlawed synthetic marijuana products like ‘Spice’ and ‘K2.’

So why isn’t CBD being more tightly regulated to protect consumers? Colorado’s former Director of Cannabis Coordination recently told the Economic Club of Florida it’s still illegal, with the exception of one medication intended to treat epilepsy in children.

“All of that is still technically illegal under the Food, Drug and Cosmetics act. And so, this is a giant – it’s not even a gray area, it’s actually just illegal,” Freedman said. “But, we’ll say it’s a gray area because of enforcement.”

CBD sales haven’t been shut down, Freedman adds, because nobody wants to be the bad guy.

“Nobody wants to come in and say, we’re going to shut this all down overnight,” Freedman said. “A few people tried, and the backlash from the public was so great that it was difficult to get through.”

Even without CBD legalization at the federal level, Florida is moving forward with a framework for its coming hemp industry. And Bell says to her, that future looks bright. She thinks producers can take advantage of an “immediate” market for CBD and hemp products.