Florida Bill Would Legalize Industrial Hemp, Block Federal Ban in Practice

TALLAHASSEE, FL. (Oct. 11, 2015) – Earlier this month, a bill was filed in the Florida State House to authorize the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp in the state, effectively thwarting in practice the federal prohibition on the same.

Introduced on Oct. 1 by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee), House Bill 271 (H271) sets up the framework to effectuate a commercial hemp farming program in the state. It reads, in part:

"Hemp is considered an agricultural crop in this state that produces a viable, environmentally sound crop requiring less irrigation, fewer pesticides, and fewer toxic refinery processes than alternative materials and has multiple applications that include a wide variety of manufactured and fabricated products."

Hemp cultivators would still be subject to regulation and licensing requirements under the legislation. In order to operate an industrial hemp field lawfully under H271, farmers would be required to have their crops inspected by regulators to ensure they contain “no more than 0.3 percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol.” Farmer would also be required to pay registration fees of up to $100 annually.

Since the enactment of the reprehensible federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has prevented the production of hemp within the United States. While the agency claims that growing is not prohibited, it also stipulates that growing can only be done with a DEA-issued license. However, only one license has ever been issued by the federal government

By rejecting any need for federal approval, HB271 would set the stage to thwart this federal ban in practice. Passage would join Florida with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine, North Dakota and Vermont – that have passed similar measures.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively blocking federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. Laws passed last year in Tennessee and South Carolina, and this year in North Dakota, Connecticut and Maine, all legalize hemp even though the federal government considers this plant illegal.

According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.

Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.

During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”.

Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”

"…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law."

In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses is still prohibited. The Florida bill rejects this prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.

H271 is an essential first step toward hemp freedom in the state of Florida. It has yet to be assigned to a committee at the present moment, and will be considered during the next legislative year.