Cannabis has Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried very excited, but when she gushed Monday to the Florida Chamber of Commerce about the state’s big new cash crop potential, she wasn’t talking about something that can be smoked, eaten, or taken as a some sort of medicine.
The hemp species of cannabis, which is free of the psychoactive ingredient THC found in the marijuana species, has so many untapped potential industrial uses that Fried compared its future impact on the economy to that of the printing press Monday in a speech to the chamber’s Future of Florida Forum in Orlando.
It’s a crusade that Fried campaigned on last year when she became the only Democrat to win statewide office, and she did so with an office Democrats hadn’t imagined winning in more than a generation. During the campaign she talked about envisioning hemp as a $10 billion to $20 billion potential for Florida.
Now, with passage in the past year of federal and state laws legalizing hemp and a series of public hearings and efforts to create a hemp industry in Florida, Fried has upped that prediction to $20 billion to $30 billion. It’s the new industrial revolution, Fried told the chamber gathering.
“I’ve compared it to the printing press, that that is the type of impact that it is going to have on our state,” Fried said. “It may take a couple of years. But I guarantee you, mark my words, that within 10 years that we are going to be known for hemp here in the state of Florida.”
The federal government and the Florida Legislature agreed on the potential. So have other states. So now the race is now on for states such as Florida to claim the lead. In 2018 Congress approved hemp farming and product production, taking the plant off the federal Schedule 1 list of banned drugs. In May, the Florida Legislature approved Senate Bill 1020 and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in June.
The draft rules her department has been writing under SB 1020 are finished and should be submitted to the federal government by the end of the month she said. If all goes well, she expects Florida’s program to have federal approval by the end of the year, for her department to start processing applications, and for farmers getting seeds into the ground.
Fried said she is expecting more than 3,000 applications on day one, from farmers and entrepreneurs wanting to get into the hemp business.
That will allow Florida to create a regulated agricultural industry to produce regulated CBD oil, which Fried said is desperately needed for all the medicinal purposes it’s already being used for. But that’s not the real benefit, she insisted.
“The industrial aspects of hemp range from everything from biofuels to replacements of plastics, to replacements of Styrofoam, paper, concrete using “hempcrete” … which is going to be better for the environment, releases less carbons into the atmosphere, and all the products are biodegradable.”
There is no place better than Florida to grow it, she said, as evidenced by the fact that Florida was a big hemp-producing state before it was outlawed.
Of course, there remains the challenge of limiting hemp farms to hemp. Fried said from the physical appearance and the smell “there is no difference” between hemp and marijuana. So law enforcement agencies will have to be aware of the tests that can detect THC in the plants.
Fried said Florida’s farming community already gets it, and she’s seeing a high level of excitement from Key West to the Panhandle for a new cash crop that could be a lifeline for the areas destroyed by Hurricane Michael last year, and for areas that are seeing the rapid decline of citrus.
“Having industrial hemp here in our state is going to create a marketplace for products that we can not only export to our neighbors in the rest of the United States but really create Florida-first, America-first products that we can export to other countries. And we’re estimating this could be a $20- t0 $30-billion industry for the state of Florida within 10 years.”
Then there is the business entrepreneurial community, which sees the opening of an industry mostly banned in the United States since the 1930s, and which researchers now envision as very multi-faceted.
“This is an opportunity for our universities and our colleges and for our entrepreneurs to start researching,” Fried said. “We’re talking about all these things we can use from hemp, but we’re going to need the private industry to step up with our universities and colleges to start putting intellectual property behind what is the opportunity here in our state and across the world when it comes to the hemp product.”
There’s even the prospect of adding hemp to beers, she said.
“I mean the kinds of conversations we are having every single day, you would be amazed,” Fried said.