As citrus growers across Florida continue to suffer from citrus greening which is hurting the viability of the crop, advocates are hailing industrial hemp as a miracle crop which could help ease the losses which the citrus sector is suffering. Some Floridians even think the plant could surpass oranges as an agricultural powerhouse. But lawmakers in the capitol are urging caution.
For decades, there has been one big problem keeping hemp back: The government banned hemp alongside marijuana. While the plants are closely related, unlike pot, hemp has only small traces of the key active ingredient THC. And in recent years, the federal government has lightened up on hemp research.
One bill is looking to ease the restrictions on research however. The bill is sponsored by Representative Ralph Massullo, a Beverly Hills Republican and under the plan, universities could see how Florida’s climate affects the plant, and what market there is for the byproducts. Cannabis lobbyist Jody James says hemp is showing up in building materials, cosmetics, grocery stores and car parts.
“Because hemp is so environmentally friendly, and because the end products you create with the resin from hemp replaces plastisols, if someone you know recently bought a BMW, their dashboard is probably already made from hemp,” James said.
The potential benefits of industrial hemp cultivation can be dizzying. But the USDA does list the plant as an invasive species. And it’s not clear how it might affect Florida’s ecosystem. Which is why Republican Representative Ben Albritton of Bartow wants scientists to do five years of research before the state approves commercial growers.