“Since this law came into effect starting July 1, we’ve removed over 80,000 packages from around the state.”
By Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix
The hemp industry in Florida—concerned about its livelihood—sighed with relief earlier this year when lawmakers ditched a proposal to limit the amount of THC in hemp-derived products.
Now, sponsors of that legislation–Polk County Republican Colleen Burton in the Senate and Manatee County Republican Will Robinson in the House—hinted Wednesday that they may revisit the hemp limits in the 2024 legislative session.
“This summer we were hoping to see a reenactment of the Farm Bill at the federal level and perhaps change the definition related to hemp,” Burton said while speaking at a roundtable discussion at Tampa General Hospital.
She was there with Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson (R) to discuss the state’s efforts to protect children from high-potency hemp products. “We were waiting to see that happen, but it [the farm bill] hasn’t happened.”
Industry officials have speculated that the federal government could reregulate hemp in the next reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which is supposed to happen this year—but Congress isn’t close to coming to terms on such legislation.
“We’re hopeful that Congress can pass something regarding an update on the Farm Bill,” Robinson said. “But we’re not confident of that, so we may be looking at additional Florida legislation to see if we can help fill in some of these gaps.”
The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalized hemp in the United States and set off the introduction of intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids like Delta-8 into the general population. Delta-8 is a product that has psychoactive and intoxicating effects, says the FDA, though those who have consumed it say that it provides a lighter and more relaxed feeling and is ideal for those who don’t want to get high from medical cannabis. It’s sold in smoke and CBD stores throughout the state.
Since it has come on the market, nearly half of all state legislatures around the country have either regulated its use or outright banned the product.
The bill that Robinson and Burton sponsored during the 2023 session originally would have limited the amount of THC (the main psychoactive compound in cannabis) in hemp products, but it faced a fierce pushback from members from the hemp industry as well as regular Floridians who say they rely on the product to deal with physical pain.
For example, in the House, the bill set THC limits not to exceed 5 milligrams per serving or 50 milligrams per package and prohibit those products to anyone under the age of 21.
Ultimately, the bill sponsors removed the provision that would limit the THC amounts.
“We just ran out of time,” Robinson told the Phoenix on Wednesday. “We had to get it through the final committee hearing [and] we had 80 percent of the bill that everyone…voted for and could agree on, so let’s take care of that piece, which we did. That allows Commissioner Simpson and his office to do the great work that they’re doing right now. And we may revisit that piece of legislation later.”
At Wednesday’s roundtable at Tampa General Hospital, Commissioner Simpson’s mission was to get the message across to the public that the state is intent on cracking down on THC-hemp products getting in the hands of children.
The law bans the sale of such products to individuals under the age of 21. It prohibits marketing that targets children, and it bans the packaging of such products that resembles candy that could be attractive to kids.
“Since this law came into effect starting July 1, we’ve removed over 80,000 packages from around the state,” Simpson said. “We are going to be following up on these businesses to make sure that we’re getting this material out of our stores.”
“We’ve seen in poison control a pretty significant increase in the cases of exposure for these high potency THC products over the last several years,” said Dr. Justin Arnold, the medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa. “In 2022, we had about 933 cases of exposure in children, of which almost half (44 percent) resulted in hospitalization, which is pretty significant. And 29 percent of all kids who were exposed to this had moderate or severe effects.”
The Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services is currently working on adopting new rules for the state hemp program that provide packaging and labeling requirements. That process will continue over the next few months, Simpson said.
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