Lawmakers and the public: Controversial hemp bill needs work

By: - April 12, 2023 5:02 pm

Hemp being grown indoors for flower to produce CBD oil. Credit: Florida A&M University hemp pilot project report to Florida Senate Agriculture Committee.

Lawmakers in a House committee on Wednesday approved a bill related to regulations for hemp-derived products, but the sponsor acknowledged that the bill is still a work in progress, with a little over three weeks left in the spring legislative session.

Of concern is that the hemp industry and hemp entrepreneurs believe they could go out of business.

The legislation would dramatically reduce the amount of THC — the compound in the plant associated with getting you high — allowed in retail hemp-derived products. Hemp and marijuana come from the same species of plant, but hemp can’t contain more than 0.3 percent THC – the main psychoactive ingredient that provides the “high” when ingesting cannabis, according to the 2018 U.S. farm bill.

More than 20 states have enacted proposed hemp regulations over the past two years as a reaction to the spread and popularity of a legal product known as Delta-8, which has filled the shelves of convenience and smoke shops throughout the state.

The sponsor of the bill, HB 1475, is Manatee County Republican Will Robinson Jr.

During the bill’s first committee hearings in the House and Senate, the reaction was so negative from those who use and sell hemp products on the bill’s proposed THC limits that Robinson raised the THC levels in an amendment the following week.

They are now set not to exceed 5 milligrams per serving or 50 milligrams per package. The Senate’s version (SB 1676) remains much lower, with the per serving size not to exceed 0.5 milligrams and the per serving total not to exceed 2 milligrams.

But approximately two dozen hemp entrepreneurs who appeared before the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee said those changes weren’t nearly sufficient and would cripple the industry if enacted.

“It’s overregulation. It’s anti-free market. It’s anti-small business, and it’s anti-free Florida principals,” said William Clark of the Libertarian Party of Florida.

Robinson said that he had a binder full of amendments that he wants to add to the bill, but said that the appropriations committee was not the place to introduce them. He said that he will bring forward a “strike-all” amendment — when a bill reworks the entire document — when the bill goes to the Infrastructure Strategies Committee, its last scheduled stop before making it to the House floor.

That comment did not endear him to some in the audience.

“I urge that we either kill this bill or table it into the next session,” said Carlos Hermida, who runs a hemp dispensary in Tampa. “I think the representative’s binder on how many amendments need to be put forth is a big indication about why this bill shouldn’t pass.”

Hemp entrepreneurs said that the passage of the bill could cost the state tens of thousands of jobs and the loss of thousands of small businesses, quoting an economic analysis and survey done by hemp business researcher Whitney Economics, which several media outlets have cited.

But Robinson said that he didn’t trust the analysis, because it was premised on a law being passed that would prohibit sales of hemp products.

And he says that he is not doing that in the bill.

“This economic analysis is not worth the paper it was written on,” Robinson said.

Beau Whitney of Whitney Economics responded late Wednesday afternoon. He said that his analysis was not focused on a specific piece of legislation.

“What I tried to do was frame the question that if there’s a ban or severe restriction on these hemp sales what would your company do?” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily about a specific bill per se.”

He added that his intention is to provide data on the economics of these hemp derived products in Florida. He also says that he intends to attend a future committee hearing on the proposal in Tallahassee – though that has yet to be scheduled.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.