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Changes to bill allay concerns of Florida hemp businesses while keeping a focus on kids

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A hemp regulation bill advanced through the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee after removing a cap on THC potency levels. An advocate for hemp businesses explains why the changes are important to the industry.

Florida lawmakers are considering a proposal that will modify regulations around hemp-derived products. The original version of the bill created major concerns for hemp-related businesses, but recent changes have allayed those concerns. .

On Thursday, the bill (SB 1676) advanced through the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, 19-0, after removing a cap on THC potency levels in hemp products.

Supporters were concerned about high-potency THC inside hemp products that are sold t, and consumed by minors.

The bill still bans sale and use of hemp products to people younger than 21 and bans packaging, labeling or marketing that’s “attractive to children.”

J.D. McCormick is founder and president of the American Healthy Alternatives Association, which advocates to keep alternatives to Big Pharma products legal and accessible.
J.D. McCormick is founder and president of the American Healthy Alternatives Association, which advocates to keep alternatives to Big Pharma products legal and accessible.

The Senate bill now matches a House version of the proposal (HB 1475) that was also discussed Thursday by the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee.

J.D. McCormick is founder and president of the American Healthy Alternatives Association, which advocates to keep alternatives to Big Pharma products legal and accessible. He has testified before lawmakers.

In this interview with WMFE, McCormick says the bill has been modified to take out language that could have harmed many companies, as hemp is big business in Florida.

Listen to the full conversation in the player above. A transcript of the discussion follows.

WMFE: Can you first tell me what changes do the proposed bills moving through the Legislature make to hemp products in Florida?

McCORMICK: Initially, when proposed, the bills at the start of session would have eviscerated or destroyed the existing hemp economy in the state of Florida. There was really kind of nasty language in there, that referenced synthesis, or using a common agricultural process to synthesize or recreate existing molecules in the plant. So a common example of that is corn. You could mow down a gigantic field of corn, but there's still not material in that corn to create the amount of corn syrup that we need in our country and ethanol and other things. So in a very similar process, hemp, you extract out these valuable cannabinoids or molecules like CBD [cannabidiol], CBG [cannabigerol], CBN [cannabinol], delta-8, etc. And so that's where we make our consumer products etc. And I think that was kind of the original intent of the bill. But one of the unintended consequences of the bill, is all of the other things that are created using hemp, like say jet fuel, or hemp plastics, or hemp concrete. You have to go through a very similar synthesis process to make all of those key products as well.

So working with the Legislature and the bill sponsor, we worked very hard to kind of craft what the legislation we think they initially wanted, which was to protect children, no marketing to children, you can't make edible shape of cartoons or animals, things of that nature. And then, of course, the 21-plus. So we're now raising the age to purchase these products to 21. Now, most retailers in the state of Florida and most manufacturers had already kind of self-regulated to 21-plus, but now it's in state statute which gives the state the ability to enforce that 21-plus with whether it's civil penalties or the proposed misdemeanor penalties.

So it sounds like these bills are going to be making changes to some age requirements, and then also making changes to the process of how some of these products are made. And I kind of want to get a little bit more into that because it sounds like from what you're saying that it's more toward businesses that are dealing with hemp in ways that maybe some listeners might not think of jet fuel, as you were saying and things like that?

Trying to regulate a multibillion dollar industry, with a few lines on a piece of paper, can really have a lot of unintended consequences when the industry is not involved in say, long form conversations and helping to draft that language. The stakeholder input is very important. For instance, we had a group that works very closely with the federal government on hemp research for things like jet fuel. One really cool one that I learned from from these gentlemen was, they put him on biomats, or basically floating rafts, and they put them in waterways in the state of Florida.

And hemp is it's an amazing plant, but it pulls a lot of harmful elements out of water, say phosphorus and other things, damaging to the to the ecosystem. And so there's just a lot of things that hemp touches and can be used for. And that original language would have harmed a lot of that. So, I think you're right. Many people that think of him they may immediately think of a hemp t-shirt, or a hemp tennis shoe, or maybe hemp concrete. But, hemp has a myriad of uses, from everything from consumable products like CBD or lotions, even all the way to textiles, jet fuel, the manufacturer of graphene and other industrial lubricants. It's an agricultural commodity and because of that it has many uses.

With hemp being so versatile and the government trying to regulate such a large industry, it sounds like some of the language in the bill has changed?

The bills originally we're kind of laser focused on on one element of the industry. And I think we've gotten to a place now where the language that's in the bill removes the bad actors from the industry in kind of the cannabinoid space delta-8, etc. You can't manufacture gummy in the shape of a cartoon character, or an animal, or gummy bear etc. So, that's now taken out. They're also instructing the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to create rules around marketing to children. So I think the original intent of the bill, which was aimed at kind of reining in this emerging delta-8, CBD, CBG market, reining that in, I think we got there and working with the Legislature and the bill sponsors to strike a balance between protections for small business and protections for children and everyday consumers.

With this new language in the bills, how will how will these hemp bills impact the economy?

As it currently sits, the House bill has been amended to remove the synthesis language, to remove the milligram caps. And we've seen now a Senate amendment that that will be proposed or potentially attached to the bill. As it stands currently, we really think any impact that this bill will have will be negligible and truthfully will only remove bad actors. I would go out on a limb here and say 99% of the hemp industry, the delta industry, already adheres to many of these guidelines. They're not actively marketing to children. They're not making gummy bears. So we think that whatever impact it may have is going to be negligible on the manufacturers or retailers of these products. The state of Florida has done an amazing job, what we call kind of the gold standard for regulating hemp products in the state.

If you're not familiar, there are already over 10,000 retailers registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture who currently sell hemp products in the state of Florida. They must adhere to a myriad of packaging guidelines, testing standards, and just a multitude of other regulations that really has kind of given the market an amazing level of confidence, and the consumers an amazing level of confidence in what they're buying. And that regulatory environment here in Florida has, in fact, enticed business owners from other states. One of our members recently in the last, I think he signed his lease, maybe say in February, moved 300 employees and his 60,000-square-foot facility from Los Angeles, California, all the way to Orlando, Florida. Because Florida was viewed as the gold standard for hemp regulation.

How many hemp businesses are there in Florida?

If you're saying retailers, we're estimating. So there's 10,000 to 10,500 registered retailers. Manufacturers and wholesalers, I think the wholesale registration had 371. So that's just distributors, etc. And then manufacturers. We think that number is well into the hundreds.

Still sounds like hemp is big business in Florida.

Oh, absolutely! And that's not including the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of acres of hemp being grown in the state, the actual plant. So yeah, it is big business. Recently, Whitney Economics, an economist who specializes in hemp and cannabis, did an economic impact report on the state of Florida and and estimates $4.1 billion in retail sales of the products, $10 billion in total revenue derived from the products. And then a total economic impact of I think $17 billion.

With 420 being today [Thursday], I'm just curious if these bills will impact the medical marijuana industry specifically in any way?

No. So, actually, it's funny you should say that, at the end of the bill, the end of the proposed legislation. There are a few lines that say effectively all medical marijuana treatment centers and/or medical marijuana companies are excluded from these regulations. So this should not impact any medical marijuana company in any major way. And, so, that market will continue on as is and, thankfully, after working with legislators, so will the hemp industry continue on as is.

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