Florida Legislature Tries to Kill Hemp

In recent weeks, Florida legislators have taken steps toward banning hemp products. Senator Colleen Burton and Representative William Robinson have introduced companion bills, HB 1475 and SB 1676, that would reclassify hemp extract as “a food that requires time and temperature control for safety and integrity of product” and impose several regulations that would effectively end the rather large hemp industry in State of Florida.

Currently there are a number of products sold openly in hemp dispensaries, smoke shops and convenience stores throughout the state that contain derivatives of THC that are similar to what you can find in medical marijuana. The proposed bills would regulate the levels of THC in hemp products to less than 2 milligrams per package and less than .5 milligrams per dose. Although the bills aren’t completely banning hemp, but these levels of THC would ban most hemp products and would even ban full spectrum non-psychoactive CBD hemp products. Only products made of CBD isolate (contains no THC at all) and non-ingestible topical products would be allowed for sale in the state.

The argument to ban hemp in Florida seems to be fueled by a fear that these THC derivates could possibly end up in the hands of children. During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing that heard the bill on this past Monday, Burton introduced the bill as “pro children” with the intention of protecting kids from harmful substances. Hemp advocates claim the proposal is a product of “big cannabis” attempting to shut down the competing hemp industry.

“It is hard not to expect big cannabis is involved. If you don’t count the black market, the hemp industry is medical marijuana’s main competitor,” explains Carlos Hermida from Chillum Hemp and Mushroom Dispensary located in Ybor City, Tampa, “THC derivatives like Delta 8 offer people the benefits of medical marijuana without the high prices of medical cannabis, the constant doctor visits required to maintain your card, and the many people don’t like the fact that Florida keeps a registry of medical marijuana patients. Many people fear that being placed on that registry could restrict their rights, the ability to legally own a gun permit is probably the main fear.”

Beau Whitney, a cannabis economics, operations and supply chain expert, recently released an economic impact report to show how the bill can negatively impact the state. The report shows the hemp industry has a $13.7 billion annual economic impact on the state economy. That includes $6.8 billion in wages paid to nearly 190,000 Floridians with an average wage of $17.24 an hour.

Nearly half of hemp businesses surveyed by Whitney Economics said they would be forced to shut down if it became law. Another 24% said they would experience significant revenue loss and 15% said they would relocate to another state.

Hemp has helped many farms struggling with production losses survive and thrive, according to Whitney Economics. There are currently more than 600 active hemp cultivation licensees in the state, and they are growing the crop on a combined 18,000 acres of land across Florida’s 67 counties. Additionally, there are about 9,260 businesses that have hemp permits in Florida.

“The customer demand is behind these THC derivatives and they are absolutely safe, the extraction process is done with some dangerous chemicals but these processes have been deemed safe and are used to produce much of the stuff we find in our foods,” Hermida explains, “Plus many of Florida companies are willing to comply with stricter regulations aimed on keeping kids away from these products. That being said it feels more like an attempt to put us out of business rather than protect kids.”

Hemp is legal by federal law and contains derivatives of THC that work just like medical marijuana. Since CBD became popular, hemp has been rising in popularity and in recent years has offered THC derivatives that have offered Floridians with a suitable replacement for the overpriced and overregulated medical cannabis available in this state.

Hemp can be defined, by the “2018 Farm Bill”, as a cannabis plant that contains less than .3% Delta 9 THC on a dry weight basis. As long as the plant has less than .3% Delta 9 THC then it is legal by federal law and the rest of the cannabinoids present are no longer on the controlled substance list. When President Trump signed this piece of legislation back in 2018, this served nicely to allow for the legal sale and possession of CBD and other medicinal cannabinoids.

Furthermore, the Florida Legislature passed legislation in 2019 that legalized hemp by state law, established a licensing process for businesses to sell hemp, and placed the businesses regulation under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Nikki Fried, the Commissioner of Agriculture at the time, claimed hemp would start a new industrial revolution in this state and also claimed that industrial hemp could save the Florida farmer. 

Since 2021, there have been a number of different THC derivatives that have been hitting the market legally.  Derivatives like Delta 8 THC, Delta 10 THC, and THCP can get you stoned just like medical cannabis and are even stronger in some cases, but they also contain many of the medical benefits as well.

In addition to basically eradicating those THC derivatives from Florida store shelves the bill language encompasses items not traditionally considered as food, like “snuff, chewing gum, and smokeless products derived from or containing hemp,”. The proposed legislation require products be manufactured in a facility with a “current and valid permit” by a regulatory entity, along with a report confirming that the facility meets baseline requirements.  The bill also sets up requirements for containers, including establishing that they are “suitable to contain products fit for human consumption,” that they mitigate exposure to light and high temperatures, and that they are not designed to be “attractive to children.”

Since the SB 1676 passed its Senate Agriculture committee on Monday, it is headed to a Fiscal Policy committee that is yet to be scheduled. The matching House Bill to this bill is HB 1475 and has yet to be scheduled to be heard by any house committees but has been assigned to Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee. 

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