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Florida bill banning delta-8, many hemp products ready for DeSantis

Business owners have said the bill could destroy the state’s hemp market and put Floridians out of work.
 
Florida lawmakers have passed a bill that would impose strict bans on Florida's hemp industry.
Florida lawmakers have passed a bill that would impose strict bans on Florida's hemp industry. [ Associated Press ]
Published March 7|Updated March 8

A bill that could dramatically reshape Florida’s hemp market is ready for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature, in spite of warnings from business owners that it could ruin Florida’s marketplace and could potentially affect products with no psychoactive effect.

Business owners warn the legislation will effectively dismantle the hemp industry, causing thousands of Floridians to lose their jobs. Consumers have pleaded with lawmakers about the positive effects hemp has had on their mental and physical health.

But bill sponsor Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, dismissed many of those cries, saying that hemp products are intoxicating and are being sold “because there’s a lot of money in selling people drugs.”

The Senate bill passed unanimously, but the House was far more split. It passed that chamber in a 64-48 vote, with 14 Republicans voting against it.

The bill, SB1698, would ban delta-8 products like gummies, tinctures and vapes, but may also affect other products like CBD extracts because of some banned natural cannabinoids, or compounds, that appear in hemp extract.

The most well-known cannabinoid is delta-9 THC, which creates a “high” sensation in large quantities. But the bill would ban other compounds like delta-8, delta-10, THC-V, and THC-P from being included in hemp extract.

Some cannabinoids the bill bans from hemp extract exist in low levels in some CBD products people use to manage health conditions, including some of the oils from Charlotte’s Web, created for a young girl who had epilepsy and used CBD to ease her seizures.

Tracy Thaxton Berg has been using hemp oil to manage her daughter Riley’s epilepsy. With the use of the oils, Riley has been seizure free for nearly eight years, Thaxton Berg said.

Riley, who has severe autism and is nonverbal, used to have multiple seizures a day. Thaxton Berg, who lives in the Florida Panhandle, said doctors initially recommended a pharmaceutical to manage Riley’s seizures, but she and her husband worried about the drug’s behavioral side effects.

With hemp oil she takes morning and night, Riley has no side effects and is no longer at risk of falling and injuring herself, Thaxton Berg said. She’s scared of giving her daughter something new without knowing the effects it could have.

“The fact that now we’re facing the possibility of not being able to have that here, we’re scared,” Thaxton Berg said. “We won’t have any other choice but to move.”

Rep. Joel Rudman, R-Navarre, a physician, said in debate that the state should not be encouraging self-medication. He also said he would not send his sibling, who is epileptic, to a smoke shop to treat that condition.

“We should encourage all patients to use the system in place,” Rudman said.

Florida’s hemp business came into effect after the federal 2018 farm bill, which legalized hemp. Since then, it has swelled to employ more than 100,000 Floridians and rack up sales of more than $10 billion in 2022, according to a study commissioned by a hemp trade group.

Gregory on Tuesday told lawmakers they had been “duped” into signing off on a hemp market they thought would be largely used for industrial purposes like making textiles.

Instead, Gregory said, “they’re using hemp products to make intoxicating substances.”

Delta-8 can have a psychoactive effect, but is typically less potent than delta-9 and occurs in smaller quantities. Through a chemical process, though, other cannabinoids can be converted into delta-8, creating a final product, legal for sale, with a stronger and potentially psychoactive effect.

JJ Coombs, who operates three hemp businesses based out of Fort Lauderdale, including a hemp extraction lab, said if the bill becomes law he will likely be left with no choice but to move his business to another state. Coombs said he has just over 150 full-time employees working for him.

He said under the bill, it would put his business at risk. If even a small bit of those banned compounds are in his products, it would be illegal, Coombs said. He said he wants the industry to be regulated and takes issue with super-dosed products, but said that the legislation shuts down the industry instead of working with it.

“(The bill) hands over our industry to the black market, to dispensaries and to out-of-state manufacturers that are still shipping into the state of Florida,” Coombs said.

Gregory said the business owners who may be impacted were “crafty enough to see the loophole” and will be “crafty enough to do something else.” He said the business owners should have suspected that the legislature would one day crack down, but noted that they can still sell delta-9 THC within the proposed caps.

The bill would cap hemp products to 5 milligrams of delta-9 THC per serving or 50 milligrams per container. Gregory said that change was a “compromise,” and that ideally he would like to see “0 milligrams.”

Several Democrats in the House have said the bill would dismantle one industry in favor of giving its business to another, the medical marijuana industry.

Recreational marijuana is a possibility for Florida next year — the Florida Supreme Court is reviewing amendment language that would allow adults over 21 to use marijuana without criminal penalties.

If that language passes, the recreational products would be sold at Florida’s existing licensed medical marijuana treatment centers.

“If this product is so bad we want to ban it, then ban it,” Rep. Hillary Cassel, D-Dania Beach said. “But that’s not what we’re doing today. We’re choosing which doors you buy it from.”

Correction: Due to a reporter’s error, this article has been updated since initial publication to accurately reflect how Charlotte’s Web was founded.