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State News

Hemp Grows Support In Florida Senate

A field of hemp plants
P. Solomon Banda
/
AP Photo

A measure establishing a state hemp industry received critical backing from the state Senate Agriculture Committee Monday.

The bill, brought by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), previously got the nod from the Industry, Innovation and Technology committee.

It was ambiguous in its original form, only authorizing the state Agriculture Department to develop rules for a hemp program. After that committee, Bradley said he would work with advocates and the department to clarify.

“This is a beginning point to get the discussion going, and I think there’s going to be a lot of give and take and discussions between Commissioner Fried’s office, our fellow legislators in the House on it," said Bradley. "I think the final product will probably look different than what you saw today.”

Bradley lived up to his word, offering a robust, 10-page amendment clarifying a number of questions raised during the first stop.

It provides basic registration and licensing requirements for hemp growers and manufacturers. It leaves it up to the Agriculture Department, and the departments of business regulation and health, to draft rules.

Most importantly, for a number of advocates and state officials alike, it legalizes hemp-derivative CBD. Unlike marijuana, CBD does not give a high and it is often used for pain relief and muscle relaxation.

Currently, CBD is in a legal gray area, with officials like Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried saying it’s illegal despite appearing on the shelves of health food stores, gas stations and smoke shops across the state.

Another question, raised at its previous committee stop, is about the scope of production – whether hemp should be available solely on an industrial scale, or if it can be grown for personal use. 

Bradley said the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, which descheduled the hemp plant, does not allow for personal cultivation.

Bradley also noted hemp is a unique product, but he wants to make it as available as possible, including transporting hemp products across state lines and internationally.

"This is not a reflection of the medical marijuana system; that is a medicine, a controlled substance and this is different," said Bradley. "But it’s also not the same as growing apples or oranges either.” 

Hemp products would also get the “Fresh from Florida” seal, like oranges grown in the state, and the quality control regulations that accompany it.

Yet Florida Cannabis Action Network Executive Director Jodi James takes issue with a provision requiring farmers to agree in advance to law enforcement searches included as a requirement to get a grow license.

One of the concerns that we have with this bill ... is where every farmer waives their right to the fourth amendment," said James. "Basically, if you pass this bill the way it is you are telling farmers who participate in this program – and anyone who participates in this program – that they should allow law enforcement on their property at any time.”

James said she understands the concern for keeping high-THC products, like marijuana, off the market. THC is the ingredient that produces a high. CBD contains less than 0.3 percent THC.

But James said this could lead to confusion.

“If you guys don’t understand the difference, and there’s not going to be a line item allocating what the difference is going to be, how do you expect the Leon County Sheriff to know the difference?” asked James.

Also on the committee’s docket was a linked bill that caps the application fee for a hemp license at $500. The Agriculture Department can waive the fee, and funds raised will go to the Plant Industry Trust Fund.

A similar bill in the House is scheduled to be heard by its first committee on Tuesday.