Believe the hype about hemp’s potential, Florida cannabis chief tells Senate committee

Florida Director of Cannabis Holly Bell wore a dress made of hemp at Senate hearing on Tuesday

Florida’s cannabis director hopes to see the first legally authorized commercial hemp seeds planted in the Sunshine State by the beginning of the year

There’s been tremendous hype regarding Florida’s burgeoning hemp program, and the woman leading the effort did little to damper that enthusiasm during testimony Tuesday before the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee.

Holly Bell, the state’s first director of cannabis within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, believes the program will begin its first year as a “several million-dollar industry that will quickly become hundreds of millions within a couple of years.”

Much of that hype nationally and in Florida regards one element derived from hemp – CBD, a medicinal product that doesn’t get you high – which is already a billion-dollar industry that is expected to continue to grow in coming years.

Bell said she understands how the potential for hemp could prove overblown if one assumes it would be concentrated around single product like CBD. But 25,000 products can be derived from the plant.

“It is also the tall-fibers hemp,” she told the committee. “The dress I have on today is a hemp dress. So we can make clothes out of it. We can make paper out of it. We can make plastic out of it. Porsche made a race car out of it last year.”

Bell expects to begin issuing cultivation permits at the beginning of next year, and estimated that 3,000 people will immediately request such a permit.

That’s not exclusively up to Florida, however.

“We can’t do anything until the feds check the box,” said committee Chairman Ben Albritton, a Republican from Central Florida. “Ultimately, we can be ready to go in December and January, but if the feds don’t say yes … what does that look like? We could be sitting ready and the feds not sign off on this for us?”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will make that decision but, according to Bell, won’t review any state’s plan until the agency publishes rules governing the growing and testing of hemp, which are expected any day now.

“We ourselves, are ready to go,” Bell said. “What I’m waiting for now is the process of the rulemaking.”

Florida’s hemp program officially launched on July 1, following its authorization by the Florida Legislature during its spring regular session. However, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida had been working on a pilot hemp project already, while Florida A&M University began its own program in August.

GOP Sen. George Gainer of Panama City asked Bell whether the state could expedite development of hemp seeds.

Bell said she speaks on a weekly basis with officials at UF and FAMU about how that can move forward. “That is absolutely very important,” she said.

The Industrial Hemp Advisory Council Meeting will take place on Thursday at 8 a.m.

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