Florida can move forward with the creation of what state agriculture officials hope will be a major industry in the state now that Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed SB 1020 into law establishing an agricultural hemp program in Florida.

DeSantis’ office announced the signing Tuesday evening and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has been a strong advocate of a state hemp industry, welcomed the news.

“Tonight’s hemp bill signing marks a transformation in Florida, and a critical step on the journey to creating a green industrial revolution, strengthening agriculture with an alternative crop of the future, and expanding access to safe, quality CBD products,” Fried said. “For months, our Department has been developing rules and gathering public input, and we’re hitting the ground running to build a state hemp program that will be a model for the country.”

Earlier  this week, state agriculture officials wrapped up a series of three public hearings in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Tallahassee on draft rules to regulate the new industry, which advocates hailed as a way to help farmers who have been hard hit by recent hurricanes and hurt by citrus diseases.

“Florida has the potential to become the gold standard on hemp — our deep agricultural heritage, climate and resources, and farming infrastructure will make Florida a national leader in this emerging new economy,” Fried added.

State agriculture officials say hemp has over 25,000 uses ranging from “hempcrete,” food additives and cosmetics, and medicinal products providing state farmers with endless options. They claim that Cannabidiol, or CBD, cannabis is estimated to become a multi-billion dollar industry in Florida, with the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the coming decade. 

Fried insists hemp could revolutionize the state’s economy, providing  a $20 billion to $30 billion a year industry. She has said citrus will remain the state’s top crop, but citrus farmers will now have an option of supplementing their groves with hemp. The state’s citrus industry is worth about $9 billion.

“Because we all have the same vision,” Fried told attendees at the public hearing held Monday in Tallahassee. “We have the vision of creating an industrial revolution in our state. And if we do this right, we’re going to get there…changing the way that we look at plastic and styrofoam and paper. All biodegradable with hemp products.”

Fried has made it no secret that she supports the development of the hemp/cannabis industry in Florida. Shortly after taking office she named Holly Bell as Florida’s first Director of Cannabis to oversee the department’s state hemp program. 

Hemp is related to marijuana but only has trace amounts of THC, the chemical that provides the euphoric feeling to users. The plant has a wide range of uses in everything from building materials to ropes and clothing and animal feed.

“This is a collaborative process between our Department, a wide range of hemp industry stakeholders — and now, the public,” Bell said earlier this month when the department announced the public workshops on the proposed rules. ”By bringing all of these groups together, we can develop a program that works for Florida’s growers, consumers, and everyone.” 

State legislators enacted the bill to take advantage of a 2018 federal law that legalized industrial hemp as an agricultural product.

Agriculture officials say the new law would also help consumers, who buy hemp-based products sold at gas stations, grocery stores and smoke shops, items such health products and cosmetics that claim to contain CBD are currently unregulated. That will change under the new law. 

Fried says she expects hemp plants to be planted and growing in Florida by the end of the year.