Industrial Hemp in Florida

Mitch McConnell is introducing a bill to make industrial hemp unambiguously legal as far as the federal government is concerned. That will put the ball in the courts of the 50 states. Some of these states will get it right and they will develop flourishing hemp industries as a result, while other states will pass restrictive laws that will stunt their hemp industry. What should Florida do? Here are some ideas:

1) Florida will need varieties or cultivars developed for Florida. Our summers are hot and wet, and varieties developed for Colorado or Alberta or France won’t be optimal for Florida farmers.

2) In the first few years after the federal government lifts restrictions, seed will be scarce and expensive. States that already have a hemp industry will have an advantage, as will states that have a less rigid framework for seed production.

3) Breeding is key – Florida needs lots of breeders. Treating breeders right can allow the development of low THC strains of hemp, adapted to Florida conditions, in adequate amounts to meet demand. Good state policies could attract some investment from outside the state, and put Florida in the position of exporting seed to other states in the southeast.

4) The legal separation between industrial hemp and illegal cannabis (less or more than 0.3% THC) is an arbitrary and and damaging distinction. Breeders in particular need a bit of wiggle room to develop low THC strains using strains that have more than 0.3% THC, but which no one would use to get ‘high.’ If a hemp crop in development has 0.31% THC, it is not inherently dangerous compared to a hemp crop that contains 0.29% THC. But most state laws require the complete destruction of any hemp field that tests above 0.3% … a policy that wipes out that generation and limits the development of new strains.

If Florida tomorrow acts like the Florida of yesterday, the state will try to limit and discourage the development of this industry. But there are some signs and hope that the puritans will ease up, at least when it comes to non-psychoactive varieties of Cannabis sativa.

If a person wants to illegally grow cannabis for the psychoactive effects, they will not start with hemp seeds. They will go for seeds that produce high proof plants, which are widely available to anyone who wants to break the law.

Small breeders using electric lighting indoors can turn a generation every two months, and can quickly bring out traits that are not so common in the wild or existing cultivated varieties. In the short term, they could fund much of their research by selling the cannabidiol (CBD) that they would produce incidental to the breeding efforts. But the price of CBD will drop, so there is only a brief window of opportunity for this.

Part of the trick will be in finding a regulatory regime that does not burden the breeder, while still ensuring that their activities are not a cover for growing high THC plants. It seems likely to me that the person who is going to engage in the risky proposition of growing marijuana for the underground market does not want ANY attention from law enforcement – much less regular inspections or the idea that inspections could happen at any time. But the fear that hemp growers will grow some cannabis is a real concern of law enforcement and needs to be addressed. It needs to be done in a way that does not stifle the hemp industry.