Kight On Cannabis: Florida Lawmakers Are Poised To Burn The State’s Hemp Industry

This article was written by attorney Philip Snow. Kight Law represents hemp businesses in the US and throughout the world.

What a long, strange trip it’s been…

It seems like only yesterday we were negotiating the finer points of Florida House Bill 1475 (1475) in the spring of last year. A well-thought compromise between industry realities and consumer safety, 1475 made several positive changes in the Florida hemp industry in 2023. It paved the way for regulations that gave industry stakeholders guardrails to operate in, protections for children, and some of the best regulations in the country governing hemp-derived products.

1475 gave Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson (Simpson) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) the ability to commence “Operation Kandy Krush.” An enforcement action taken against 475 businesses and nearly 70,000 hemp products, this operation cleaned up Florida’s hemp industry and eliminated many bad actors from the state. Simpson, the former President of the Florida Senate, and his FDACS enforcement agents looked like heroes, ridding the state of products marketed toward children and “sending a clear message that illegal and unsafe hemp products have no place in Florida”.

Evidently Simpson didn’t feel the message was sent clearly enough. This year, (and despite the fact that the provisions of 1475 are still in rulemaking) he undoubtedly worked again with Senator Colleen Burton on a Senate hemp bill (SB 1698) that echoes many of last year’s restrictive provisions. Provisions that were ultimately left of the cutting room floor in favor of sensible regulations for the hemp industry.

Perhaps due to fatigue or lack of interest, last year’s House bill sponsor decided to pass on grass in 2024, and the House gave this year’s bill (HB 1613) to Tommy Gregory (Gregory).

Due to Simpson’s former position within the Senate, it should come as no shock to readers of this blog that SB 1698 passed through its two committee stops without issue. Along the way the only amendments to the bill consisted of the addition of the poison control hotline number, a two-million-dollar ($2,000,000) gift to law enforcement for testing equipment to test hemp products, a pushed back start date (10/1/24) and revised language regarding what constitutes “attractive to children”. These amendments were far from compromises with the multitude of industry members who testified during committee hearings.

Much like its companion in the Senate and without issue or controversy, HB 1613 worked its way through four committee stops as of this writing, with a late and final stop added only as the result of Gregory amending the bill to include the same two-million-dollar gift to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). This final stop was in yesterday’s House Appropriations Committee, where the bill was passed favorably with a vote of 17-12.

Yesterday’s Appropriations Committee hearing and last Thursday’s (2/15/24) Infrastructure Strategies Committee Hearing both included multiple “no” votes by House republicans. While these “no” votes by fellow party members were not enough to stop the bill from progressing out of committee, they certainly raised some eyebrows in the Capitol.

Gregory has promised multiple times that he’s been working with industry members to find a balance between the ability to manufacture and distribute hemp-derived products, and he’s promised amendments to his bill. As he said in yesterday’s hearing, the amendments he’s provided haven’t been the amendments the industry wants. To his credit, I have worked with Gregory on proposed amendments to this bill and he’s been transparent throughout the process, but whether the industry gets any amendments that help its cause remains murky.

The fact that multi-state marijuana operators (MSOs) have engaged multiple lobbyists to lobby in favor of these hemp bills (which kill the hemp industry) adds an additional layer of confusion, or perhaps corruption to the issue. Compounded with the fact that a trade organization purportedly representing “cannabis and hemp” (they’re the same thing), has also engaged multiple lobbyists to support these bills that impose unreasonable milligram caps, redefine hemp, and ban naturally occurring cannabinoids, hemp businesses are left to wonder what’s happening to their industry.

There is still the remote possibility Gregory files amendments on the House floor, but for the time being, it seems as if the Florida legislature has worked with special interests to prove Governor DeSantis wrong- Florida is not open for hemp business.

February 21, 2024

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