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Florida lawmakers sign off on a bill capping THC levels in hemp products


A measure aimed at outlawing intoxicating hemp-based products is ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis after the House and Senate passed it Wednesday.

A measure aimed at outlawing intoxicating hemp-based products is ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis, after the House and Senate passed it Wednesday.

The bill drew an outcry from manufacturers and sellers of hemp-based products who warned it would shutter businesses and drive people to the illegal drug market. The legislation targets what is known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and other cannabinoids in hemp products — including whole-flower products — that can create euphoric effects.

The House voted 64-48 to pass the bill (SB 1698), while the Senate unanimously supported it. During a House debate, Rep. Hillary Cassel, D-Dania Beach, said the state’s medical-marijuana operators could continue to sell the same products deemed illegal under the hemp bill.

“Let’s be very clear. This drug will still be available, and it will still be sold in Florida,” Cassel said. “If this product is so bad you wanna ban it, then ban it. But that’s not what we’re doing. We’re choosing which doors you buy from.”

Democrats also pointed to testimony from people who said they rely on hemp-based products to treat conditions such as epilepsy or cancer.

“If we pass this bill, they are going to become criminals. They are going to depend on drug dealers so they can function normally. Is that what we really want?” Rep. Marie Woodson, D-Hollywood, said. “I don’t think so.”

But House sponsor Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, said the bill is aimed at closing a loophole in a 2019 law that authorized hemp to be grown in the state to take advantage of a federal farm law.

Hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants, but levels of the cannabinoid THC differ, with hemp having a THC level of 0.3 percent or less. Other cannabinoids in hemp, however, can be changed to increase the intoxicating effects of products. Lawmakers in 2019 “were duped” into approving the hemp authorization, according to Gregory.

“There’s more money in drugs than rope,” he said. “These entrepreneurs were crafty, I’ll give them that. … They knew what they were getting into.”

The proposal would set proposed caps on the amount of THC concentration in hemp-based products to “5 milligrams per serving and 50 milligrams per 14 container on a wet-weight basis, whichever is less.” Intoxicating hemp-based products should “go the way of opium,” Gregory said.

“Today is a day of reckoning” for the manufacturers and retailers, he added. “They can’t use a loophole to manufacture a recreational drug.”