A state Senate panel approved a proposed bill that would legalize hemp products.
The Senate Industry, Innovation and Technology Committee approved a measure clearing the way for legal hemp products.
A similar bill creating a state hemp program has one more stop before the floor.
The difference between these two bills is slight. Sen. Rob Bradley’s (R-Fleming Island) nine-page measure creates a state hemp program. It provides guidelines, but largely leaves it up to the state Agriculture Department to develop rules.
The committee bill approved Wednesday lays out certain packaging and testing requirements. It stipulates hemp products have to be tested by a third-party laboratory. The packaging has to include an expiration date, its potency and barcode that links to the test results.
Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Spring Hill) said the bills are meant to supplement each other.
"This bill addresses multiple areas that [are] not addressed in Sen. Bradley’s Bill," said Simpson. "And, at some point, they could be married up.”
Hemp comes from the cannabis plant, but unlike marijuana, it doesn’t produce a high. It contains less than 0.3 % THC – the high-inducing ingredient. Instead hemp extracts, like CBD, are largely used for pain relief or muscle relaxation.
But cannabis lobbyist Michael Minardi argues the bill needs clarification for law enforcement. The current language doesn’t remove THC from the controlled substances list.
“So when they’re pulled over or tested on the side of the road, they’ll still test positive for THC," Minardi said. "That will be illegal and that will still be a controlled substance in Florida, technically.”
Creating a state hemp program has been a key priority for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. A former marijuana lobbyist, Fried sees hemp as new cash crop for the state.
“The economic impact for our state is enormous," Fried told reporters in February. "Hemp can be a multi-billion-dollar industry here in the state.”
A number of lawmakers point to hemp as a way to revitalize the North Florida agriculture industry decimated by Hurricane Michael.
Bradley’s bill is scheduled for its last hearing Thursday in the Rules Committee. The companion bill in the House likewise has one more stop before reaching that chamber’s floor.
It’s not clear why lawmakers are pushing this through as a standalone bill, instead of an amendment to Bradley’s. The bill will now move through the committee process.