Florida legislators are again attempting to put guardrails on the hemp industry, continuing an effort begun in previous Legislative Sessions.
“We’re building on the good work we did last Session,” remarked Sen. Colleen Burton, who again is attempting to make changes to “some of the products currently on the market.”
SB 1698, which advanced with bipartisan support in the Senate Agriculture Committee, proposes a number of material changes to the program, including a crackdown on alternative cannabinoids that serve as functional alternatives to delta-9 THC, which is the euphoria-inducing compound commodified by the state’s medical marijuana program.
“The purpose of the bill is very simple. It holds hemp products that are ingested and inhaled to the same health and safety standards as other food products. It also restricts the concentration of specific cannabinoids, prevents the marketing and attractiveness of hemp extract products to children, provides clarification on what total delta-9 THC concentration is, and addresses regulatory gaps,” Burton said.
Per the bill analysis, SB 1698 bans “synthetic or naturally occurring versions of controlled substances listed in s. 893.03, F.S., such as delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, delta-10-tetrahydrocannabinol, hexahydrocannabinol, tetrahydrocannabinol acetate, tetrahydrocannabiphorol, and tetrahydrocannabivarin.” These substances affect the CB1 receptor that delta-9 impacts, some with more intensity and some with less.
The legislation also clarifies what it means for a hemp product to be “attractive to children,” a term of art adopted in a previous Legislative Session. If it becomes law, it would ban “containers displaying toys, novel shapes, animations, promotional characters, licensed characters, or other features that specifically target children, or, for hemp extracted intended for inhalation, the addition of any flavoring.”
Speakers for and against the proposal made their points, with opponents calling the legislative push a “witch hunt” against the industry, though safety advocates claimed it was necessary.
Dr. Justin Arnold, an emergency department physician in Tampa and the medical director of the Poison Control Information Center, said there were over 1,000 calls last year for hemp poisoning. He told a story about a 5-year-old child who ate a bag of gummies that included delta-9 THC with 3 grams of the product. The suggested dose was 1/8 of a gummy.
Arnold did not explain how the child got access to the material, presumably bought by his parents or legal guardians. Nor did he say whether anyone from the Department of Children and Families was called on these parents who permitted a 5-year-old access to adult materials.
But in an abundance of caution, an amendment adopted Tuesday also requires packaging to include the toll-free number for the Poison Control Center. However, as one speaker argued, the bill still doesn’t include the kind of childproof packaging component that would keep young people from accessing the material.
Industry advocates argued for the status quo, meanwhile, with arguments ranging from how the suggested changes would impact industry costs to arguments for “terpenes,” the properties in the plant that potentiate the chemical compounds that create the desired effects. Terpenes, of course, are not limited to hemp; they are in fruit and other products.
Randy Rembert, who operates a five-acre hemp farm, spoke for his 800 fellow hemp farmers in the state. He noted the proposed rules are the “newest attack” on the industry and would “shut down” many of the farms in the state. He wondered why hemp isn’t treated like Tylenol, with packaging that would restrict children from accessing the material.
In 2023, the Governor approved a hemp bill: SB 1676, which ultimately passed both the House and Senate unanimously after initial controversy. The bills originally envisioned a limit of 0.5 milligrams of THC per dose, or 2 milligrams per container, a proposal that rankled the hemp industry. But after industry pushback, the language was liberalized.
The current bill, per the summary, revises the definition of “hemp” to “outline that hemp extract may not exceed 0.3% total delta-9-THC concentration on a wet-weight basis or exceed 2 milligrams per serving and 10 milligrams per container on a wet-weight basis.”
At least one member of the public noted the proposed dosage limits would be more onerous than those allowed in the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law by former President Donald Trump. Another speaker noted that the dosage caps would kill “full spectrum oil,” which is “what this entire industry is built on.” Still another speaker likened the per-dose cap to limiting a car’s speed to two miles an hour or 10 miles a day.
Philip Snow, a lawyer in the hemp sector, noted that last year’s legislative changes are still in rulemaking, and the additional legislation would only confuse the industry, still adjusting from the 2023 process.
Another speaker noted that sponsor Burton has gotten donations from Trulieve, the leading medical marijuana company in the state, which has put nearly $40 million into a citizens’ initiative that would legalize cannabis for adult use. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he expects that amendment to be on the 2024 ballot.
Packaging caps, noted a shopkeeper, are easily circumvented by buying multiple packs of gummies or whatever the preferred method of dosing is.
Despite these arguments, Senators from both parties wanted to move the bill forward.
“I have real concerns with hemp,” said Sen. Lori Berman, a Democrat who wanted to move the bill on to have “more discussions.”
Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson likewise wants “some regulation” and says these changes would only drive a “small change in (the) business model” for the industry.
Both Berman and Rouson expressed concerns about the packaging of the product.
Chairman Jim Boyd said he wanted to get to a “ground” that is “good for the state and good for the residents of the state,” predicting more meetings between the sponsor and the industry going forward.