House panel clears hemp bill in final meeting of session

“Florida has a unique advantage because of our climate and our tax structure.”
Published April 2, 2019

The House’s version of a bill to create a state hemp program made it through its second of three committee stops Tuesday.

Rep. Ralph Massullo’s HB 333, which passed unanimously in the last meeting of Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee, would authorize the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to administer a state hemp program. It would also set up rulemaking and a board of experts to develop the system.

The Lecanto Republican said he “loves this bill” because it comes at a time that is encouraging for the fledgling hemp business.

“Not too much time goes by in our lives where we have a demand for a business that has yet to be established,” he said. “Usually it’s the other way around."

The 2018 Farm Bill allows a state department of agriculture to submit a plan to the United States Secretary of Agriculture and apply for primary regulatory authority over the production of hemp in their state. The plan must include a procedure for tracking land upon which hemp will be produced as well as testing, disposal, enforcement, inspection and certification procedures.

The bill doesn’t allow for Floridians to grow hemp for individual use, which is also not allowed under the federal farm bill.

Massullo said he’s heard from people both in state and out of town who have shown interest in doing business in Florida.

“There’s already demand and there are entrepreneurs from all over,” Massullo said. “Florida has a unique advantage because of our climate and our tax structure.”

Hemp, a form of the cannabis plant, uses less water and fertilizer to grow. Hemp has been cultivated for approximately 10,000 years, according to the University of Florida’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Project, and can be used for fiber, building materials, animal feed and pain relief.

Sen. Rob Bradley has filed a similar version of this bill, which he says aims to make Florida a “pioneer" when it comes to the burgeoning crop. His bill goes a bit further, and deals with processing and sale of the products.

The Fleming Island Republican’s SB 1020 is modeled after what Kentucky has done to revitalize farmland once used by the tobacco industry, he said. The bill has moved quickly through committees and has one last stop before it can reach the chamber’s floor.

Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who chairs the Senate agriculture committee, has also filed a similar bill to create a state hemp program