Hemp in Florida is one step closer to legality. A measure legalizing hemp production passed its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.
The bill (SB 1050) allows the Florida agriculture department to draft rules for a state hemp program.
But its sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), recognizes it is more of a first step than the final product.
“This is a beginning point to get the discussion going," said Bradley, "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. I think the final product will probably look different than what you saw today.”
Nonetheless, the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology committee unanimously voted the bill forward.
Many officials see hemp as a boon to an agriculture industry that has been decimated by hurricanes and citrus diseases.
The 2018 federal Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, but it is still illegal under Florida law and it is up to the legislature to lay out the rules.
The bill in its current form gives blanket authority to the state agriculture department, but Bradley said he is still grappling with how best to tackle the issue.
“We certainly want to see what Commissioner Fried and her office sees as the challenges and if there’s anything that needs to be embedded in statute and not just dealt with rules," said Bradley.
The bill leaves a number of questions for lawmakers to sort out.
One raised during public testimony: should hemp production be left to growers on an industrial scale, or can it be grown in someone’s backyard?
The biggest, though, centers around CBD.
Hemp comes from the cannabis plant. But, unlike its marijuana counterpart, hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC -- the ingredient that creates a high.
Instead, the hemp byproduct, CBD, is often used for pain relief.
CBD is sold in stores and gas stations across the state. But, according to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, it is technically not legal.
“Well it’s not legal here right now, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping the legislation is going to allow," Fried told reporters last month. "We’re working with some of the lawmakers so they can change the definitions so we can, in fact, do a CBD program here in our state."
Fried, a former marijuana lobbyist, has thrown her support behind expanding the state’s medical marijuana and hemp industries since taking office. She sees hemp as a new cash crop for the state.
Fried has even go so far as to name the state’s first cannabis director. Holly Bell, a Nashville cannabis consultant and banker, will oversee the state’s hemp program should the bill become law.
The House version (HB 333), carried by Reps. Sam Killebrew (R-Winter Haven) and Ralph Massullo (R-Beverly Hills) has not yet been heard.
Bradley said he is "cautiously optimistic," and says there’s a willingness in both chambers to “make sure that this is an opportunity for Florida farmers.”
For more news updates, follow Shawn Mulcahy on Twitter: @ShawnDMulcahy.