Florida's hemp program on fast track

The first licenses for roughly 3,000 interested Florida hemp growers are expected to start being issued at the start of 2020. (Barbetorte / CC BY-SA 3.0)
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - State lawmakers got a briefing Tuesday morning on Florida’s hemp rollout.

Everything from a bureaucratic standpoint is moving quickly, but some caution there will likely be a learning curve before the program is in full swing.

When hemp first became legal, law enforcement didn’t know how to distinguish it from illegal marijuana.

Florida’s Cannabis Director Holly Bell said many law enforcement agencies have obtained cheap test kits that can tell the difference on the spot.

"It really helps that on-the-road officer still have what he needs to do his job,” said Bell.

The kit is just one of many promising steps forward lawmakers heard as part of the hemp update from the Department of Agriculture.

"I feel like we're very much on track. We've been working very hard, and things are moving along well,” said Bell.

The first licenses for roughly 3,000 interested growers are expected to start being issued at the start of 2020. Planting will likely start soon after.

Florida’s Cannabis Director predicts the first crop in 2020 will be several million dollars, but she expects that number to reach the hundreds of millions, if not billions within just a few years.

FAMU and UF researchers explained the first year may be difficult because there are still many unknowns regarding best practices for growing hemp in Florida’s environment. Some of those risks involve a lack of certified pesticides for hemp and a lack of knowledge of what strains grow best and where in the state.

“I am a little bit concerned about growers getting out ahead of what we know on the science in Florida,” said Dean of Research at UF, Robert Gilbert. "We can't make recommendations on one year of data.”

An experienced hemp farmer, Scott Burgett with Green Earth Cannaceuticals also warned January freezes and shorter days could yield a poor crop if farmers start too soon.

"You end up with a four or five-inch plant that you paid $3 for that's worth about 60 cents,” said Burgett.

Even with the expected challenges, lawmakers said they don’t believe it will slow the growth of hemp in Florida.

Florida is still awaiting certification from the USDA for its hemp program, but Florida’s Cannabis Director said other states have already begun cultivating and Florida will likely be able to begin, with or without Federal approval.