Nikki Fried urges congressional Dems to erase ‘arbitrary line’ between hemp and marijuana

Nikki Fried
The proposed bill would end the nearly century-old federal prohibition of marijuana.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has called on Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate to follow through on proposed legislation to end the federal ban on marijuana and ease restrictions stifling Florida’s growing hemp industry.

In a Wednesday letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Cory Booker, Fried detailed how hemp growers in Florida are hampered by an “arbitrary line” between hemp, which is legal, and marijuana, which remains on the federal controlled substances list.

“This discrepancy is impacting the legal hemp industry, hindering access to capital, federal research funding, insurance protections against disaster relief, trade promotion through (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and U.S. Department of Commerce programs, developing markets, and employment protections,” wrote Fried, a former marijuana lobbyist and current candidate for Florida Governor. “If left unresolved, these unnecessary hurdles could suppress the growth of the hemp industry that is projected to increase at 32% annually through 2027 as our nation moves toward more environmental and health conscious products.”

The three senators in July released a draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which aims to remove cannabis — the source plant for hemp and marijuana — from the federal list of controlled substances, allow states to decide if and how they want to legalize it, expunge all nonviolent cannabis-related criminal records and create a federal framework for the production, distribution, sale and taxation of cannabis products, including marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD).

“At long last, we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed War on Drugs,” Schumer said during a July 14 press conference announcing the “monumental” bill, whose final draft pends filing in Congress. “The waste of human resources because of the historic over-criminalization (of marijuana) has been one of the great historical wrongs for the last decades.”

Hemp and marijuana come from different species of the cannabis plant, with hemp partly defined as having less than a 0.3% concentration of delta-9 THC, the psychoactive chemical that causes a “high” in marijuana consumption.

By comparison, the legal definition of a non-alcoholic beverage in the U.S. is anything with less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.

The hazy distinction between hemp and marijuana is the result of the Farm Bill, which former President Donald Trump signed in December 2018. The bill removed hemp from the most restrictive tier of a federal list of controlled substances, Schedule I.

Farmers, cannabis proponents and local governments nationwide applauded the move as just and long overdue, pointing to hemp’s use across thousands of years as a source of nutrition, cloth, rope, cosmetics, ink, detergents, soap, lighting oils and myriad other products unrelated to its more renowned sister crop.

Marijuana, conversely, remains a Schedule I, federally controlled substance alongside heroin, MDMA (ecstasy), LSD, mescaline and other drugs. Several states, including Florida, have nonetheless legalized the drug to varying degrees.

In less than three years since the Farm Bill’s enactment, Fried’s agency approved more than 800 hemp cultivation permits for Florida farmers in 65 counties, resulting in 30,000-plus acres cleared for planting. In 2019 alone, hemp had a $370 million economic impact on the state.

“While the burgeoning growth of the hemp industry is promising, it has also revealed the need for federal action to resolve the conflicts arising from the federal prohibition of marijuana,” she wrote.

Full federal legalization, she argues, would create a jobs boom in Florida, yield millions, if not billions for the state, and help to resolve conflicts between federal and state laws for medical and adult-use cannabis.

“The $13.6 billion state-legal marijuana industry in the U.S. currently supports more than a quarter-million jobs, with the global legal marijuana economy expected to reach nearly $74 billion in the next several years,” she wrote. “I am hopeful that with your leadership, we will see the Senate … take action to address cannabis reform.”

Financial disclosures Fried filed Monday as part of her campaign for the 2022 Governor’s race included a $745,000 home transferred to her by her fiancé, marijuana entrepreneur Jake Bergmann, and a $130,000 investment in Florida medical marijuana company Harvest Health & Recreation.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Zhombre

    September 2, 2021 at 3:14 pm

    She has, of course, absolutely no financial interest in this issue. Her motives are entirely altruistic and pristine as a mountain stream.

  • Ron Ogden

    September 2, 2021 at 3:46 pm

    The only substantive issue within her remit that she has addressed recently is hemp and marijuana. Is that not sufficient evidence of where her true interests lie? Gov. DeSantis is standing up on the side of personal liberty in the everlasting fight between those who love freedom and those who love the apparatus of central control. Not only is he on the right side of liberty, he is on the right side of history.

    • Tom Palmer

      September 7, 2021 at 12:13 am

      How about the advance of personal liberty to end pothibition? Reefer madness must go. It has nothing to do with Fried.

Comments are closed.


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