Personnel note: FDACS Director of Cannabis Holly Bell heads to Flora Growth
Holly Bell. Image via Flora Growth.

Holly Bell, Flora Growth
Bell oversaw the beginning of Florida's hemp industry.

Holly Bell, the agency official tasked with overseeing cannabis in the Sunshine State, is leaving the public sector for the medical-cannabis-producing company Flora Growth.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried introduced Bell as the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) Director of Cannabis in February 2019, one month after Fried took office after winning her election on a platform including growing Florida’s cannabis and hemp industry. Now, Bell is off to Flora Growth to serve in the Vice President of Regulatory position.

Bell, who left FDACS on Friday, announced her departure in a Facebook post on Sunday, calling the move the start of “an amazing chapter” in her life.

“Leaving FDACS and the coolest title ever — Director of Cannabis — is hard but rewarding,” she wrote. “I accomplished what I was asked to do. We created a brand new industry in (Florida)! Thank you Commissioner Nikki Fried. I am thankful for the opportunity. I worked with a great group and industry. Thank you!”

“I am challenging others right now to step up and get involved by doing your civic duty!” she continued. “I did mine and I learned a lot.”

As Director of Cannabis, Bell was tasked with starting, implementing and overseeing the Florida Hemp Program created under legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in 2019 to create the state hemp program (SB 1020). Additionally, she assisted the Florida Department of Health with the edibles portion of the Medical Cannabis Program.

In an interview with Florida Politics, she said the Florida Hemp Program became a gold standard for other states to use, as Florida is one of only a few states that regulate the hemp industry from cultivation to retail within one department. Florida has distributed more than 10,000 permits.

“I had a great team and if you really you know, roll your sleeves up and focus and get it done, it’s not that hard to do,” Bell said.

Before stepping into her role at FDACS, Bell was consulting for the cannabis and hemp, entertainment and finance industries. Her site also said she “created a turn-key package for banking the cannabis and hemp industries for financial institutions.”

Additionally, she worked at Nashville-Access, a media company she co-founded that produces syndicated radio shows and podcasts on country music.

The Department of Health, under DeSantis, largely occupies the field of medical marijuana, but the Agriculture Department’s food experts are supposed to oversee “processing requirements” of marijuana for edible consumption.

It was her experience in trying to marry the banking and the marijuana industries that caught the eye of Fried, a former medical marijuana industry lobbyist.

Medical marijuana providers around the country have been vexed by how to handle their money because, as The New York Times explained, “selling marijuana violates federal law (and) handling the proceeds of any marijuana transaction is considered to be money laundering.”

Bell also has been a director of business development for Denver firm Safe Harbor Services, where she educated the “board of directors and employees on the real story of the cannabis industry,” and was a “practice management consultant” for ProEquities Broker Dealer in Birmingham, Alabama.

Bell began at Flora Growth on Monday.

Flora Growth is the parent company of several cannabis brands and operates one of the most extensive outdoor cannabis cultivation facilities. It makes products from several cannabis derivatives, including cosmetics, hemp textiles, and food and beverages.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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