Could hemp deliver salvation for Florida farmers?
The state has great expectations for its hemp program, approved in 2019.

Sen. Rob Bradley to present bill before Agriculture panel.

Changes in federal law from the 2018 Farm Bill open the door to growing industrial hemp, and Sen. Rob Bradley hopes to advance legislation to get things growing the Sunshine State.

“I want Florida’s agricultural community to have the maximum flexibility to take advantage of opportunities presented,” the Fleming Island Republican said.

His bill (SB 1020) lands in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Monday.

The greatest challenge facing hemp remains current marijuana laws.

Florida tightly regulated the growing of medical cannabis; licensed dispensary owners — formally called “medical marijuana treatment centers” — can only sell supply they grow themselves.

Bradley doesn’t want legislation to allow an end-run around those laws. But he does think rules for growing hemp should be fundamentally different than for growing marijuana.

“Because they derive from the same plant, that’s why it has to be treated differently than growing lettuce or blueberries or oranges,” he said. “But it doesn’t require the same regulations for a controlled substance as for a pharmaceutical.”

His legislation provides specific definitions for hemp and hemp extracts. It also requires processing levels of THC in products down to a level less than what federal officials would schedule as a narcotic.

Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the major compounds in cannabis plants. The ‘non-euphoric’ CBD is mostly extracted from hemp, a form of cannabis, and used for treating pain and relieving inflammation. THC is the “psychoactive” ingredient that causes marijuana’s “high.”

The debate hits the Senate as Florida officials seek out ways to allow hemp to be sold within the bounds of the law.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried upset marijuana activists when she signaled she may target CBD sales in Florida. But she made clear at the time her desire to work with the Legislature on hemp legislation.

Bradley wants to clear the way for agriculture industry professionals to get in the game. According to his own research, he said Florida provides a good place to grow the product.

“Preliminary feedback is that Florida is a suitable climate for growing hemp, and it might be a particularly good place with our seasons,” he said. “But I’ll leave those details for now. That’s why we have pilot projects.”

The bill already won unanimous support in the Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee. Now, Bradley hopes this bill advances through the Rules Committee and on to a floor vote.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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