TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NSF) - Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Friday encouraged supporters of a new state hemp industry to tell Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign a bill that would lead to a regulatory framework for the crop.
Fried said an envisioned hemp “revolution” needs the governor’s signature on the bill (SB 1020), which would create a hemp program within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“If the governor’s office receives any of the phone calls that we have been receiving over the last five months, from the farmers and the people in our communities across the state that are excited, energized and optimistic about this, then he’ll understand and support the hemp legislation,” Fried said while appearing at the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee.
The Legislature formally sent the bill Friday to DeSantis, along with a proposed $91.1 billion state budget (SB 2500) and eight other bills.
Fried said she has not heard from DeSantis about whether he will sign the hemp bill. DeSantis’ office did not immediately reply to request for comment on the bill.
The hemp measure would require the department to create a regulatory framework that would address issues such as licensing people or businesses that want to grow hemp and requiring them to provide detailed information about where hemp would be cultivated.
The bill doesn’t provide the department with additional funding, but Fried said her staff will be able to develop the program.
“I have met with all of the staff members inside of my office, all of our different division directors who would have a place in this program, and they’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” said Fried, who came into office as a major cannabis advocate.
The department has set up hemp workshops Thursday in Pembroke Pines, June 21 in Tampa and June 24 in Tallahassee.
Fried said her goal is to have a first set of rules published in July, with the program running by the end of the year.
State lawmakers passed the bill to take advantage of a 2018 federal law that legalized industrial hemp as an agricultural product.
With hemp able to be used in numerous products, industry supporters contend it could be a boon for the state, including providing a new crop for Northwest Florida farmers and timber operations who sustained heavy damage in Hurricane Michael.
Fried said hemp could become a $20 billion to $30 billion a year industry.
“It’s going to be something that is going to replace all of our Styrofoam, our plastics, our paper,” Fried said. “Hemp is going to be what I call an industrial revolution in our state and across the country, and it’s all biodegradable.”
Fried said the program would also help consumers, who buy currently unregulated hemp-based products sold at gas stations, grocery stores and smoke shops throughout Florida.
“The stuff that is on the shelves right now, I’ve encouraged consumers to not buy, because you have no idea what’s in it,” Fried said.
Health products now available contain or are advertised as containing low levels of non-euphoric cannabidiol, or CBD. The products, sold in oil, edible or even whole-flower form, are untested in Florida and have become a source of confusion for law enforcement officials and prosecutors, critics say.
“Creating this program allows us the opportunity to put rules and restrictions on there, making sure there are testing standards, making sure there are labeling requirements and then getting that on to the shelves and making sure that our consumers are protected,” Fried said.
DeSantis has until June 29 to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.