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Could Florida farmers soon be cashing in on hemp?

New law lets universities start researching hemp

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With citrus production down, Florida’s farmers are looking for new ways to make ends meet. And a new law is giving universities in the state with a college of agriculture permission to look at hemp as a possible alternative.

The University of Florida and Florida A&M soon could be in the business of researching hemp. They are the two universities that qualify to begin pilot hemp projects.

Legislation allowing the research, which has only been legal since 2014, was just recently signed into law.

FAMU is gearing up in anticipation for the research to kick off.
   
“(It would be an opportunity if) they could actually count on (hemp) as a cash supplement, even between times when they're growing whatever normally they would grow,” said Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Beverly Hills.

Hemp is a non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana. It has a long history of cultivation in the U.S., and the country imports about $600 million worth each year.

Last April, News4Jax spoke with a hemp farmer from Kentucky whose family has been growing the plant since the early 1800s.
 
The majority of the funding for the university programs will come from private partners.

FAMU said it’s already receiving inquiries from excited investors.

“There are a lot of companies that would like to get on board, so to speak,” said Dr. Robert Taylor, the dean and director of land grant programs at FAMU.

Before the first seed can be planted, the Department of Agriculture has to come out with a set of guidelines for universities to follow, including how to make sure plants are safe and secure.

Even though hemp can’t get you high, it’s still a controlled plant. FAMU said it plans on support from its private partners to keep the plants secure.

“People from the outside may think that it is, you know, more marijuana than hemp,” Taylor said.

The universities will report back to the governor and the Legislature in two years to brief them on what the research has found.

If all goes well, the Legislature will look at legalizing hemp cultivation for farmers in the state.

The Department of Agriculture has four months to implement rules and guidelines for the research programs.