Florida lawmakers get behind hemp industry


  • Industrial hemp farming
Looking at a potentially lucrative new industry, lawmakers are working on rules for farmers and businesses to grow and sell industrial hemp in Florida.

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Monday approved a bill (SB 1020) that would create a regulatory framework for the industry, which is emerging after a federal law last year legalized industrial hemp as an agricultural product. In doing so, Congress effectively separated industrial hemp, a type of cannabis, from marijuana that can get users high.

Supporters say hemp can be used in a variety of products such as rope, animal feed, building materials and clothing —- and could be a boon as a new crop for farmers. For example, some Northwest Florida lawmakers have started touting hemp as a crop that could help farmers and timber operators who sustained massive damage in October’s Hurricane Michael.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee is scheduled to take up a similar bill (HB 333) on Tuesday.

“The intent here is to get this emerging industry to be viable in the state of Florida and for us to be as cutting edge as possible while also respecting the guiderails … that the federal government has provided in this situation,” Senate sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. “We’re going to push it. We’re going to keep pushing it.”

The bill would give regulatory oversight to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is headed by Commissioner Nikki Fried, a major supporter of cannabis.

In part, the bill would require people or businesses to register with the department if they want to grow, process or sell hemp and would require background checks every two years. Also, they would have to agree to allow department representatives and law-enforcement officials to enter their premises to conduct inspections and to make sure requirements are followed.

The bill also would require a program involving the certification of hemp seeds and create an industrial hemp advisory board. In addition, it would set the stage for submitting a required plan to the federal government for the state to regulate hemp production.

Sen. Doug Broxson, a Gulf Breeze Republican who serves on the Agriculture Committee, praised the approach the bill would take.

“I think we’re all in a kind of a new era in Florida, and we need to do it right,” he said.

Bradley also has been a key player in recent years in developing Florida’s medical-marijuana laws. While the medical-marijuana industry is growing quickly after passage of a 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized medical cannabis, the state has faced numerous regulatory and legal challenges in recent years.

Bradley tried Monday to clearly separate medical marijuana from industrial hemp.

“These (proposed hemp regulations) are not meant to be onerous. This is not a reflection of the medical-marijuana system. That is a medicine, a controlled substance, and this is different,” Bradley said. “But it’s also not the same as growing apples or oranges, either, until we evolve this industry and get to a point where perhaps it will be that one day.”

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