Hemp legalization ready for final votes in both chambers

Hemp, Photo Date: August 2009 / Cropped Photo: Barbetorte / CC BY-SA 3.0 / (Source: MGN)
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Hemp cultivation could be a multi-billion dollar industry in Flordia, but first lawmakers have to legalize the plant in the state.

Legislation that would do just that passed its final House committee Thursday morning and is now ready for final votes in both chambers.

“This bill will provide jobs and commerce for our state,” said House Sponsor Representative Ralph Massullo.

Massullo, a practicing doctor, says the bill aims to ensure quality and safety of the products.

“And we want people to know when they're buying something they're going to get what they're basically being sold,” said Massullo.

Despite hemp products like CBD regularly being sold in the state at the current time, they’re stuck in a legal gray area.

Jeff Sharkey with the Florida Hemp Industries Association says if the bill becomes law it will allow businesses, some of which have been raided by police, to breathe a sigh of relief.

“It's legal at the federal level, but we still have this little problem with the Florida criminal code that this bill fixes,” said Sharkey.

The Department of Agriculture will play a major role in rolling out the proposed hemp program, and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried says they’re already preparing.

“We have so many of our farmers who are itching to get their seeds in the ground,” said Fried.

Commissioner Fried says it's important to get the program up and running as soon as possible because hemp is likely to become a supplemental crop for Florida farmers, a possible saving grace for those in the Panhandle who suffered heavy losses after Hurricane Michael.

"We want everybody who wants to be involved with the hemp program to have access to it so there won't be the barriers like we saw in the medical marijuana world. This is going to be an opportunity for everybody,” said Fried.

Fried says if all goes smoothly, the goal is to have the first hemp plants in the ground by the end of 2019 but adds a current part of the House's bill that specifies the state’s program would be submitted to the USDA could delay implementation until next year.

Fried expects the language to be removed before final passage.