Bill creating hemp as Florida crop approved by Senate panel

A field of legal cannabis plants selected for their low content of THC grows on August 25, 2014 near Meaux, France. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) 

A measure that could give Florida farmers the option of growing hemp as a crop for industrial uses won unanimous approval Monday in a state Senate committee.

The bill backed by the Senate Agriculture Committee would authorize creation of a state program to administer and oversee the growing of hemp. The relative of the marijuana plant has been used for thousands of years to make everything from ropes to building materials to animal feed.

Hemp is a member of the cannabis plant family but contains only traces of the THC chemical compound that causes a high for marijuana users. A federal farm bill passed in 2018 gave states the opportunity to develop a hemp-growing program that would be submitted to the U.S. Agriculture Department for approval.

"We want to be a leader in hemp, rather than a follower," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Rob Bradley of Fleming Island.

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That farm bill also legalized industrial hemp by removing it from the list of federal controlled substances. Still, growing hemp for individual use would be prohibited under the Senate bill.

The legislation also would allow pilot projects and research at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences , Florida A&M University and any other state university agriculture program. These experts, Bradley said, would look into any "unforeseen issues" and "discuss the challenges and opportunities that are present" in the program.

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The Senate bill next heads to the Rules Committee before it is ready for a floor vote. A similar bill is set for a House committee vote Tuesday.

The Senate staff analysis says 38 states considered industrial hemp legislation in 2018, ranging from bills clarifying existing laws to those creating new licensing requirements and programs. Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey and Oklahoma in 2018 enacted established hemp research and industrial hemp pilot programs, the analysis says.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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