Hemp crackdown one stop from Florida's governor

'More than likely we possibly could go belly up,' Randy Rembert, a hemp farmer, says
Posted at 6:53 PM, Feb 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-20 18:53:10-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A significant crackdown on hemp is nearing the final approval stage before reaching Florida's governor. After recent advancement in a House committee Tuesday, lawmakers are poised to cast a decisive vote on a bill that would impose restrictions on hemp products and set limits on THC content.

While proponents argue the bill provides enhanced safety measures, opponents, warn of devastating consequences for an industry that employs over 100,000 people in Florida.

You might have encountered them — gummies, vapes, even joints infused with delta-8 or delta-10 THC — products prized for their calming effects and currently legal in Florida if derived from hemp, at least temporarily.

The bill aims to effectively ban those products, if enacted, by reclassifying delta-8 and delta-10 as non-hemp substances. It also imposes restrictions on delta-9 THC levels, as well as on flavors, packaging, and advertising targeting minors.

Republican Rep. Tommy Gregory, of Lakewood Ranch, the architect of the bill, contends that the measure is essential for ensuring public safety and eliminating the ambiguity that has allowed some individuals to exploit hemp for recreational purposes.

"The bill of goods that we were sold by the hemp industry in 2018 is not the bill of goods that they’re selling us now," Gregory said. "They can produce rope, shoes, clothing. Again, a product that has been around 10,000 years — they know what they can do with it besides chemicals that make people high. We just ask that they do that."

The response, however, from hemp growers and sellers has been vehement. They argue that the proposed changes would deliver a crippling blow to an industry with an economic impact exceeding $10 billion and employing tens of thousands of workers statewide.

Randy Rembert, a Florida hemp farmer, feared the bill's implementation could spell the end for his small business, jeopardizing livelihoods and causing financial ruin.

"A 50 to 70% of our bottom line comes from the very items that they're trying to ban," Rembert said. "So we can easily take a 75% loss at our company if this bill takes effect. If we took that type of hit — one our loans possibly would default, and two we would have to pivot in trying to scramble to figure out how we would survive. More than likely we possibly could go belly up."

Their efforts now focus on urging the Florida House and Gov. Ron DeSantis to reconsider the potential ramifications of the bill and, ideally, to veto it.

While the governor's stance on the issue remains uncertain, opponents hope that highlighting the bill's adverse economic effects will sway his decision. DeSantis has previously supported regulations targeting potent marijuana products in the market, leaving observers to speculate on his stance regarding this proposed crackdown on hemp.