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Should Florida legalize hemp?

Some believe hemp could become one of state's cash crops

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Hemp: It’s not marijuana and it doesn’t get people high, but legislation moving through the Florida House and Senate would allow universities to begin researching the plant for industrial use.

Dozens of products for everyday use contain hemp. These items range from beauty products to rope, drywall and even some car dashboards.

“So when your head hits the dashboard during an accident, it actually molds to the point where you don't have the damage in your head,” said Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto.

Despite hemp’s many uses, it is still illegal to grow in Florida.
     
“The U.S. imports $570 million of hemp products every year, but because it's scheduled as a schedule-one drug like cannabis, you know, the recreational cannabis, it hasn't been grown here for 70 years,” said Jeff Sharkey, of the Medical Marijuana Business Association.
          
Legislation to allow universities with an agricultural program to begin researching hemp is ready for a floor vote in the House and Senate. The University of Florida and Florida A&M would qualify.

“You’re testing different seeds,” Massullo said. “So you’re trying to optimize the growth, minimize any restrictions to the growth, evaluate how hemp interacts with the climate (and) other crops. One big comment people have had is to make sure it’s not an invasive species.”

Supporters believe this bill comes at an opportune time for Florida’s agricultural industry. With crops such as oranges not succeeding at the level they had previously, hemp could become one of Florida’s cash crops.

The bill requires a minimum of two years of research. If hemp is found viable, legalizing it could be on the horizon. If the bill passes, Florida will become the 31st state to legalize the cultivation of hemp in some capacity.