NEBA May Meeting Recap: Holly Bell, Florida Director of Cannabis
Bell oversees the development of rules, works directly with scientific experts, and ensures FL Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried’s vision for cannabis in Florida continues moving forward. Bell is also working on developing Florida’s hemp industry, including the production, processing, inspecting, and manufacturing of industrial hemp, and assists in implementing the new Farm Bill as it relates to industrial hemp. She also monitors the actions of the Florida Department of Health as it relates to medical marijuana, and will work with the Division of Food Safety on implementing the forthcoming edibles rules.
Bell pointed out that between citrus greening and hurricanes, farmers need an alternate crop, and hemp will be it. The Federal Farm Bill recently passed redefined cannabis plants and declared industrial hemp (.3 THC or less) is no longer a controlled substance. Subsequently the FL legislature passed a bill outlining a process for allowing hemp growth in our state.
The process will start with DACS holding public workshops for input; calling all other states for best practices (13 states currently have active industrial hemp programs, with $1 billion+ in sales); putting together rules for issuing permits for hemp growing in FL; getting those rules adopted. Bell estimates that late Fall of this year will be the earliest permits can be issued, with first harvests in 2020.
Other countries are 10+ years ahead of the US in hemp production & research; 20 other countries currently grow hemp. The good news is that there are plenty of products that can be produced from hemp, from oils to clothing to super strong rope. So there is an immediate market for the product once FL farmers start producing it.
There are business opportunities galore too, for farmers, processors, sellers of the final product. Unlike medical marijuana, which requires the person with the license to be responsible for all aspects of the process (growing to final products) the hemp program will allow separate licenses for each step. So there is a lower entry cost and entrepreneurs can pick 1 or all parts of the process to specialize in.
Profits from hemp growth can be legally banked in FL; there is a “Fresh from Florida” hemp program in place to market it the way we do citrus; 3 groups have contacted Bell about building processing facilities in FL, 2 have earmarked existing buildings in rural counties; 69% of people approve of adult recreational use of marijuana so legalizing that is probably on the horizon. Employers will need to address zero tolerance policies in their drug testing programs. Someone taking medical cannabis would test positive for marijuana use, so employers will have to decide if they will allow that with Doctor’s prescription – or not.
Overall, Holly Bell and DACS seem determined to implement this program in a way that benefits the state and anyone who wants a new business opportunity!