A Florida legislative panel approved a bill on Monday that would legalize industrial agriculture and give farmers in the state a new crop for their operations. The measure, Senate Bill 1020 (SB1020), was approved by a unanimous vote of the Senate Agriculture Committee. If passed, SB1020 would authorize the Florida Department of Agriculture to develop a regulatory system for the farming of industrial hemp, which was legalized federally by Congress with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. A similar bill is scheduled to be considered by Florida’s House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Tuesday.
State Sen. Rob Bradley, the sponsor of the legislation, said that Florida should move quickly now that hemp has been legalized at the federal level.
“We want to be a leader in hemp, rather than a follower,” said Bradley.
Supporters of the bill say that hemp would give the state another cash crop and could provide farmers and timber companies in areas devastated by Hurricane Michael last year a new opportunity for economic development and recovery.
“The intent here is to get this emerging industry to be viable in the state of Florida and for us to be as cutting edge as possible while also respecting the guide rails … that the federal government has provided in this situation,” Bradley said. “We’re going to push it. We’re going to keep pushing it.”
Tight Regulations Included in Bill
Under the bill, individuals and firms would need authorization from the state to grow, process, and market hemp and hemp products, and would be subject to background checks every two years. Licensed premises would be subject to inspection from state agriculture officials and law enforcement. An industrial hemp advisory board would be created and a hemp seed certification program implemented. Sen. Doug Broxson, a member of the Agriculture Committee, said that he supported the regulatory framework created by the bill.
“I think we’re all in a kind of a new era in Florida, and we need to do it right,” Broxson said.
The bill would also authorize the agriculture department to create industrial hemp pilot programs at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and other interested universities. The goal of the pilot programs would be “to cultivate, process, test, research, create, and market safe and effective commercial applications for industrial hemp,” according to the amended text of the bill. Bradley said that the pilots would allow professionals to explore any “unforeseen issues” and “discuss the challenges and opportunities that are present” in the program.
Bradley took efforts to differentiate industrial hemp and the state’s medicinal cannabis program.
“These (proposed hemp regulations) are not meant to be onerous. This is not a reflection of the medical-marijuana system. That is a medicine, a controlled substance, and this is different,” Bradley said. “But it’s also not the same as growing apples or oranges, either, until we evolve this industry and get to a point where perhaps it will be that one day.”
After receiving approval from the Agriculture Committee, SB1020 will next be considered by the Senate Rules Committee. If the bill succeeds, the hemp program would be overseen by Nikki Fried, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Fried has been a staunch supporter of Florida’s medical marijuana program, including last week’s repeal of a ban on smokable cannabis.