Pointing to potential opportunities for farmers, state House members Tuesday continued moving forward with a plan that would help set the stage for an industrial-hemp industry in Florida.
The state is trying to move quickly to take advantage of a 2018 federal law that legalized industrial hemp as an agricultural product. The House and Senate are working on bills that would set up a regulatory framework for hemp, which backers say can be used in numerous types of products, ranging from building materials to clothing.
One of the selling points of lawmakers acting quickly is that developing a hemp industry could help Northwest Florida farmers and timber growers who sustained heavy damage in October during Hurricane Matthew. But it was clear during a meeting Tuesday of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee that farmers in other regions of the state also are interested in getting into the hemp business.
“I have a lot of agricultural people in South Florida that are very excited about the potential of growing hemp,” said Rep. Rick Roth, a Loxahatchee Republican who serves on the panel.
Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican who is sponsoring the House proposal (HB 333), also said it would be a relatively rare opportunity to take part in the initial stages of an industry where demand for the product already exists.
“Hemp is a very unusual product. Not too much time goes by in our lives where we actually have a demand for a business that is yet to be established,” Massullo said. “Usually it’s just the other way around. Usually you develop a business, and then you go out and look for the demand and you try to build up that customer base.”
The House panel voted unanimously to approve the bill, following a similar unanimous vote by another House subcommittee last week. The Senate version (SB 1020) also has received unanimous approval from two committees.
The bills have differences that would need to be worked out before the scheduled May 3 end of the legislative session.
In passing the federal law last year, Congress effectively separated industrial hemp, a type of cannabis, from marijuana that can get users high.
The House and Senate bills would create a regulatory framework that would be administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is led by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a major cannabis advocate.
The House proposal, in part, would require licenses for people or businesses that want to grow hemp and require them to provide detailed information about where it would be cultivated. Also, it would require the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to conduct random inspections and to operate a program that would identify seeds suitable for cultivation.