Hemp industry hopes for veto as DeSantis mulls new regulations for cannabinoids

'I think the ban that they're putting in place would be akin to banning most liquor that's on the market,' David Charles, MOOD co-founder, says
Posted at 8:30 PM, Jun 03, 2024

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's hemp growers and sellers are holding their collective breath this week. Many are waiting and wondering if Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign or veto a bill that critics say could kill the industry. It heavily limits the stuff in hemp products that can get people high.

In March, Florida lawmakers approved SB 1698. If signed by the governor, it bans the sale of products with cannabinoids delta-8 and limits those with delta-9. It’s the stuff that, in large amounts, can get users high but also the active ingredient for so many products.

"The caps that they're putting in place would effectively ban, you know, 98% of the products that are on the Florida market," said David Charles, the co-founder of hemp startup MOOD.

Charles is now mulling whether he'll need to pull his company operations out of Florida. The potential change in hemp law, he said, could ensure working here isn't worth it.

"I think the ban that they're putting in place would be akin to banning most liquor that's on the market," said Charles."Saying, 'OK, you can only have a beer, that's, you know, 1.5% beer.'"

He's far from alone. Many connected to the state's estimated $10 billion industry said thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue are at stake. Alex Petrick with Florida Hemp Distribution is another person worried about what comes next.

"I wouldn't say it would kill our business," Petrick said. "It will dramatically hurt our business."

Petrick is already coming up with contingencies. He could move more operations online and sell products from out of state to avoid the restrictions. Or, Petrick said, he may use other unrestricted cannabinoids in his products.

"All that's being created here are barriers for Florida retailers to be able to sell these products to Florida consumers," said Petrick.

For supporters of the change, the regulations are needed to stop what they consider a dangerous circumvention of Florida's marijuana laws. Loopholes, some call them, which allow Floridians to get high despite the state's restrictions.

"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," Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, said earlier this year.

Gregory helped advance the bill this session. He said it was past time to crack down.

"They can produce rope, shoes, clothing," Gregory said. "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."

DeSantis gets to choose whether to make the restrictions a reality in the coming days. There is speculation he'll veto, but his office isn’t tipping its hand when asked for comment. If DeSantis does sign, the changes take effect in October of this year.

The other thing to consider is the federal level. There is an amendment to the new farm bill working through Congress that would essentially be a much broader ban on hemp cannabinoids than what Florida is considering. If that goes through, along with Florida's bill, experts in the hemp industry said it would kill their businesses.

"If both are passed," said Petrick, "the industry is pretty much kaput."