TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The federal government legalized hemp in its Farm Bill passed in December, but in Florida, hemp cultivation and some of its byproducts, like cannabidiol, or CBD, remain in a legal gray area.
Gabe Suarez owns Natural Life, an expanding chain of CBD dispensaries in Florida.
“It's tremendous, the amount of benefits it [CBD] has,” said Suarez.
The federal Farm Bill passed in December authorized states to begin cultivating hemp and regulating its byproducts, like CBD, but Florida’s laws are vague when it comes to hemp, which has led to law enforcement raiding some stores, like Natural Life’s Tallahassee location.
“We've had other stores in other cities and other counties hassle-free with no issues operating like it's any other business,” said Suarez. "So it's very inconsistent.”
While Suarez says he tests all of his products for quality, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried says the absence of regulations in the state has led to some products containing harmful chemicals.
Some cases are more extreme.
“They call it 'spicing,' where they're taking the hemp and adding all this hallucinogenic activity to it and the consumer's going and buying this,” said Fried.
A bill filed for the 2019 legislative session aims to set a regulatory framework for hemp cultivation and CBD quality control in Florida.
“We want products to be fresh from Florida, manufactured here, used here and shipped elsewhere so people will realize the products we produce in Florida are high quality,” House sponsor Rep. Ralph Massullo said.
Massullo says the cultivation of hemp could be a cash cow for Florida farmers.
The bill also would require CBD products to be independently tested and have a stamp of approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
CBD suppliers like Suarez, who are already going the extra mile to ensure quality, say it's a win-win proposition.
"Force everybody else to take the initiative that we're taking into providing a safe and quality product that is what it says it is at the end of the day,” said Suarez.
If the bill becomes law, companies that don’t comply with the new standards will be barred from the industry for five years.