The development of the hemp industry here in Florida is unfolding under the management of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. At this year's annual Lay of the Land Conference, Dan Russell, an appointee on Fried's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, spoke about new developments within the cannabis industry here in Florida.
Russell is an attorney with the Dean Mead Law Firm, and spoke about his experiences in the cannabis industry which began to take shape back in 2014.
Speaking about the beginnings of Florida's cannabis industry, Russell began by saying "we did a little bit of legislation on pilot projects for hemp. But we also had the medical cannabis - only at that moment for low THC- we didn't have your traditional marijuana products at that time even for medical patients. You can imagine the patient population was very small but the demand for licenses was incredibly high because the vision was that we would be where we are today and the prediction is that five years from now we would be at an even larger valuation for those companies."
"So my cannabis work has moved into hemp now as well," Russell continued "more on the national and international scale than in Florida just because of Florida being a burgeoning industry. That being said, there's a lot of work to do for me and the folks at my firm."
"This is a plant that it feels like, just ten minutes ago, we wouldn't have been having a conversation like this with traditional farmers thinking 'I want to put hemp in the ground because it's legal and I think I could make money doing it.' Because it's so new, a lot of people have a lot of questions."
While most people know that marijuana and hemp are both derivatives of the cannabis plant, there are important legal distinctions between the two. While marijuana contains a high concentration (15% to 40%) of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the intoxicating component when inhaled, hemp has a lower concentration of THC (0.3% or less). Hemp has much higher levels of CBD when compared to marijuana, which is why hemp is the best for industrial uses. Hemp has been grown for over ten millennia and has been in use as a component for goods including paper, clothing, rope and even lotion. Until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, it was illegal to grow in Florida.
The establishment of a hemp industry here in Florida is full of potential for farmers, investors, and workers. To ensure that the hemp industry is properly regulated, the Florida Senate passed Senate Bill 1020, with the aim of establishing a state hemp program within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried also formed a Hemp Advisory Committee made up of legal and business professionals within the hemp industry.
Speaking about the people that work in the hemp industry, Russell stated "a lot of the hemp work right now is being done by nurserymen and farmers who have locations in other states and they have their experience from California, Colorado, and other places who think to themselves 'I live in central Florida, and I have these operations in other places but I think I might like to do this closer to home.'
"In addition to the issue we had in North Florida with Hurricane Michael, a lot of those pine forests are now just dirt. So we have a lot of folks up that way that are thinking of this a a real financial and investment opportunity. If done properly, there is a lot of money in this industry."
Russell also spoke about some of the caution that needed to be taken by those looking to join the hemp industry. "Please read about the problems that people run into," Russell warns "you know the folks that I'm talking about. There's too many of them. They grow too much. If we were at a tomato presentation right now, if you were growing ten thousand acres of tomatoes and didn't have a buyer, if we told you about a person like that you would be like 'why would you ever do that?' And it's happening every day in the United States with hemp because the demand for CBD is incredible, but we're not in a place to get all of that product to market because you can't go through the process fast enough. So you have a lot of fields that are either being burned or left to rot, and that money is never coming back."
While it is important to act with caution, the process of establishing a robust hemp industry here in Florida holds many opportunities for landowners searching for a profitable alternative crop.
Here is the full Lay of the Land Podcast episode featuring Dan Russell along with Kirk Goble of the Bell South Land Company and Ricardo Alvarez of FDACS in an insightful Q&A session about hemp regulation.
For more information on Florida's industrial hemp industry, check out these articles.