Florida Legislature Approves Bill to Establish Agricultural Hemp Program

Florida’s full legislature has passed a bill to establish a program for hemp as an agricultural commodity.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill, which has already passed the full House of Representatives. It now goes to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law – he also has the option of allowing it to become law without his signature, or vetoing it (though there’s enough support to override a veto).

“Today is an exciting, historic and bipartisan day for our agriculture community,” said Senator Rob Bradley (R). “There has been a lot of struggles in our agriculture community over the last several years, from citrus greening to the hurricanes, and they’ve had a devastating effect on many of our farmers. This is a lifeline. This is an emerging agricultural crop that can make all the difference.”

As noted by the Associated Press, a federal farm bill passed in 2018 gave states the opportunity to develop a hemp-growing program that can be submitted to the U.S. Agriculture Department for approval.

“It opened up a window for states to act. Florida is going to be a pioneer, one of the first states to act in this emerging space,” Bradley said.

Hemp is related to marijuana but only has trace amounts of THC, the chemical that makes people high. The plant has a wide range of uses, from ropes and clothing to building materials and animal feed.

The bill was a top priority for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who was on the Senate floor for its final passage. Afterward, she said citrus will remain the state’s top crop, but growers will be able to supplement their groves with hemp.

Growers have been plagued by two diseases: citrus canker and citrus greening. Canker causes blemishes on the fruit and greening kills the trees. Combined they’ve cost citrus growers billions of dollars in losses.

“We are known for citrus, so we’re definitely going to continue encouraging our citrus industry,” Fried said. “If they need to utilize some of their property for hemp production, this gives them another option as we’re figuring out and finding a solution to citrus greening.”

Fried said Florida’s ability to grow hemp year-round and its large number of ports position the state to lead in production and exportation.

“We have the right environment, we have the right conditions and we’ve got the right members of the agriculture community, who are some of the most strong-willed” people in the state. “They’re going to utilize this to be prosperous,” she said.

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