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New Florida Administration has Hemp Supporters Hopeful


With a new administration in charge, full implementation of Florida’s 2-year old medical marijuana amendment now seems more likely. Meanwhile, supporters of industrial and medical hemp – marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin – are also hopeful.

Among those supporters is Brittany Sullivan. She delights in discussing the long history of American hemp farming. George Washington cultivated it at Mount Vernon, for instance. And even though hemp is cannabis, which also produces marijuana, she stressed the two are not the same.

“Cannabis – hemp - is different. It can serve as a medicine and give you all the benefits that marijuana can. It just won’t get you high,” she asserted.

Hemp is the source of non-psychoactive Cannabidiol or CBD oil. The Federal Food and Drug Administration says it seems to be effective in treating epilepsy, although some other medical claims are less proven at the moment. Still, Sullivan said the uses of hemp extend well beyond the medicinal realm. For example, it can be used as a nutritional supplement.

“It’s a great source of fiber and fatty acids like Omega 3.”

In addition to hemp’s more traditional uses for things like rope and clothing, it can also be used to make biodegradable containers and many other products. All of which, said Sullivan, means more businesses and jobs.

“You’ll see people now opening CBD businesses, opening different restaurants with hemp-infused food, you’ll have more manufacturers developing packaging. There’s just so much it’ll bring about in our community and so much revenue that will come from it.”

All those uses will require more hemp farming. And Sullivan sees hemp cultivation supplanting Florida’s troubled citrus industry.

“Also the pine forest industry in the Panhandle and how that was affected by Hurricane Michael. So this is an incredible crop that can also be grown as a grain in terms of flax seed.”

Ultimately, Sullivan predicts hemp-related business will be a major moneymaker.

“We’re projected to have a revenue of $22 billion by 2022 if this is implemented correctly and all of that revenue will be put back into our education and law enforcement.”

$20 billion, by the way, is roughly the same amount of taxable sales in hotels and other accommodations generated by Florida tourists every year. There’s just one minor road block, admitted Sullivan. Florida does not yet have laws in place allowing the commercial growth of hemp. Although the federal government has opened the door for those laws to be enacted.

“The Agricultural Act of 2013, which allowed pilot projects to be implemented in different states. So now universities and other entities can start researching hemp farming. But can farmers farm hemp? No. Until state laws are passed, they can’t farm hemp.”

The holdup over the past few years, insisted Sullivan, has been all the debate surrounding the state’s medical marijuana amendment. And although hemp isn’t pot, she explained all the controversy and confusion tended to muddy the waters. Now, with a new governor and cabinet on deck, she’s hopeful for progress.

“We have a great agriculture commissioner. She’s awesome and will do a lot for us. And we have an awesome governor and I think they both see the same vision I and a lot of other people see. But we just have to get the ball rolling with education.”

Because once Florida has laws in place allowing hemp production, Sullivan said producers will have access to significant help.

“The federal government is going to fund these farmers and give them the necessary equipment to be able to farm hemp, so all we need is a state plan that’s enacted at this point.”

That plan is what Sullivan and other hemp fans hope will come to pass during the lawmaking session that begins March 5th.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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