Fresh from entering the medical marijuana market, Florida now envisions taking a healthy slice of the anticipated $22 billion market in hemp. The “no-high” variety of cannabis used to make “CBD,” oil and other products derived from hemp, became legal in the U.S. in December.
Demand for CBD products — thought to help with anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain — has been swelling nationwide. The newly passed 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal on a federal level and removed hemp from the “controlled substances” list.
Now, all businesses need is the green light: Florida nurseries, licensed producers of medical marijuana, and hemp growers in other states are eager to produce hemp in the state.
“Farmers are hungry for a new cash crop,” said David Hasenauer, president of the Fort Lauderdale-based Hemp Industries Association of Florida. “We have an incredible climate here in the Sunshine State. We need that intensity to grow these plants — and we have it year around. Florida stands to uniquely benefit [from hemp].”
Kicking off a program
Fried, a medical marijuana lobbyist before her election in November, has appointed Holly Bell as cannabis director to develop hemp farming.
Bell, who helped start Tennessee’s hemp program, said the Florida Department of Agriculture is working with the state Legislature on a bill to implement a hemp program. Once a law passes, the department will set rules and safeguards and develop a plan to send to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Once approved, we will start taking applications for Florida producers to begin growing hemp,” she said in an email to the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Thursday.
Bell said Commissioner Fried’s goals are to “allow smaller growers to compete, give consumers more choices, and ensure the product is safe for consumers.”
She noted that CBD products are outselling THC — or marijuana — products at a ratio of 10-to-1. The hemp-CBD market in the U.S. could reach $22 billion by 2022, according to the Chicago-based Brightfield Group market research firm.
For consumers, a Florida rollout of hemp production could result in better options for CBD products, as they would be subject to state regulations overseeing ingredients and processing.
The new Farm Bill allows broad hemp cultivation, the transfer of hemp-derived products across state lines, as well as the sale, transport or possession of hemp-derived products, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization. But the group says U.S. hemp production is government-regulated — it can’t be grown in one’s backyard.
“There’s significant interest in [growing hemp in] Florida,” said Matthew Ginder, a lawyer in the cannabis law practice at Greenspoon Marder in Fort Lauderdale.
After Florida legalized medical marijuana in 2016, the rollout was criticized as slow and benefiting too few. Ginder hopes smaller farmers will find opportunities in hemp. Many wanted to grow marijuana for medical purposes, but couldn’t get licensed.
Making early moves
Several Florida companies are taking action now to enter the hemp business.
Fort Lauderdale-based Veritas Farms, which is licensed to grow the plant on its 140-acre farm in Pueblo, Colo., plans to apply as soon as Florida delivers its guidelines, says CEO Alexander Salgado.
Meanwhile, the company is selling its CBD products online. They include liquid drops, salve, capsules, lotions, gummies, lip balm and massage oil. Orders are shipped to states including Florida.
“We can sell through the whole country because it’s not a marijuana product,” Salgado said.
Another company, Green Roads, has a head start in Florida’s CBD market.
The Deerfield Beach-based company, with labs in Davie and Gainesville, is in a two-year research program with the University of Florida.
Green Roads, has invested $1.3 million in the state Legislature-authorized program, which is testing varieties of the industrial hemp plant in Florida for future viability, according to UF.
Curaleaf, a Massachusetts-based medical marijuana company that has five dispensaries in South Florida, also would like to produce hemp in Florida, potentially in partnerships with local farmers, said Jessie Kater, senior vice president of manufacturing at Curaleaf.
“The Farm Bill allows for hemp to follow a different set of regulations, to grow in a larger scale outdoors, which is more cost effective than indoor environments,” he said.
CBD has stronger market potential than marijuana, which can only be sold in the state by licensed growers and providers. But hemp-derived CBD could be produced in the state and sold anywhere, Kater said.