Without much conversation and a brief, unanimous vote, a House panel voted Thursday to send a bill that would create a state hemp program to the chamber floor.
The bill, put forward by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, would authorize the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to administer a state hemp program and make the plant an agricultural option for farmers across the state.
Hemp, a form of the cannabis plant, contains only trace amounts of THC — the naturally occurring component in marijuana that produces a high. In 2014, the federal government authorized a state department or university to conduct a hemp pilot program. In 2017, Florida created one. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp was cleared to become an agricutlural crop under a state-authorized program, which the bill aims to create.
A similar version of the bill in the Senate has also passed all of its committees.
The state will then have to submit the plan to the United States Department of Agriculture and apply for primary regulatory authority over the production of hemp. The plan has to include testing procedures, certification methods, inspection plans and corrective actions for farmers who may be in violation.
At the House State Affairs committee Thursday morning, bill sponsor Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican, compared the burgeoning hemp industry to a tech boom. He said young people will become the next Steve Jobs, and that new hemp products will soon be as ubiquitous as the iPhone.
"It will provide jobs not only in the industry, but for the young people today who need to learn a new career," he said.
According to the bill's staff analysis, at least 30 countries in Europe, Asia and North and South America currently permit farmers to grow hemp. In the U.S., hemp market is largely dependent on imports.
If passed, the state hemp program will set up rulemaking and a board of experts to help develop the system in the state. The idea is modeled closely after what Kentucky has done to revitalize farmland once used by the tobacco industry. Researchers have since said that hemp is proving successful at adapting to Florida’s growing conditions, which vary dramatically across the state. A staff analysis of the bill said Florida farmers will likely benefit economically by the opportunity to plant, process and sell hemp and hemp-based products.
"Very rarely do we have a bill that has such a broad influence on the people of Florida," Massullo said. "The hemp industry is waiting for someone to develop. The uses of hemp are myriad."