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Hemp Legislation Advances in Fla.

The bill's main House sponsor said it would give Florida agriculture and related businesses an unparalleled opportunity.

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Hemp farming in Florida moved one step closer to reality Tuesday when a bill authorizing it cleared a House committee, and the legislation is moving forward in the Senate as well.

The bill backed unanimously by a House Appropriations panel would create a state program to administer and oversee the growing of hemp for industrial uses, a potentially multi-billion-dollar business. The relative of the marijuana plant has been used for thousands of years to make everything from ropes to building materials to animal feed.

But Congress only recently voted to remove hemp from the U.S. list of controlled substances and gave the green light to states to develop hemp-growing industries, subject to certain conditions.

The main House sponsor, Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto, said the legislation would give Florida agriculture and related businesses an unparalleled opportunity.

“We have a demand for a business that is yet to be created,” Massullo said. “There’s entrepreneurs from all over the place, literally.”

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. It also has a higher concentration of cannabidiol or CBD that is used increasingly for such things as anxiety and pain. To be legal hemp in Florida, the plants could have a THC concentration of no more than 0.3%, according to a House staff analysis

The Florida farming plan must be approved by the U.S. Agriculture Department and growing hemp for personal use would be prohibited. A state license would be required to cultivate the crop. Potential hemp growers could not get a license if they provide false information on their application or if they have been convicted of a controlled substance felony within the past 10 years.

Jeff Sharkey of the Florida Hemp Industries Association said it’s important for Florida to move quickly to keep pace with other states on hemp.

“We want an environment where small farmers, large farmers can grow it and it’s economically feasible,” Sharkey said. “We want to have that Florida brand on it.”

The Senate bill is also moving through committees. Massullo said it is more comprehensive than his bill in that it deals with rules on hemp processors and sales.

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