A new attempt to regulate Florida’s hemp industry is the second time around for legislators in Tallahassee.

A House Committee is advancing a bill that would crack down on alternative cannabinoids and impose new restrictions on delta-9 THC in hemp, bringing massive changes to the multibillion-dollar industry.

HB 1613, which cleared the Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Subcommittee despite members of the public calling it “discriminatory,” a “witch hunt,” and worse, changes the statutory definition of “hemp.”

The new language would ban delta-8 and delta-10-THC, THC acetate, hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), meaning these alternative cannabinoids, which are native to the plant itself, would be banned from the state’s hemp market.

The current form of Rep. Tommy Gregory’s proposal also offers “regulatory guidance” for delta-9 THC, limiting the controversial substance said to induce euphoria by some and relief by others to 2MG per serving and 10MG per container. For context, these are stricter limits than those contemplated by the 2018 Farm Bill signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Though Gregory struggled with the pronunciation of cannabinoid names throughout the hearing, he said the “consumer protection bill” is about “safety for Florida consumers,” and the bill was an attempt to be “fair” to “all stakeholders.”

He also said federal guidance regarding hemp is “not surprisingly devoid of good guidance and slow to react to anything in the hemp industry or marijuana products.”

The bill also adds new packaging restrictions to ensure the product is not “attractive to children,” a term of art adopted by the Legislature in last year’s hemp bill, which would now include a ban on images of “toys, novel shapes, animations, promotional characters, licensed characters, or other features that specifically target children.”

Packaging will also include the toll-free number to the poison control hotline after the committee approved an amendment that aligns the House bill with Sen. Colleen Burton’s Senate product, which advanced last week with bipartisan support in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Members of the public critiqued both these proposals, noting that alcohol is marketed with images to appeal to children (such as a spiked version of Sunny Delight) and that no one has ever fatally overdosed on cannabis. It didn’t matter to the committee.

In 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a hemp bill, SB 1676, which ultimately passed both the House and Senate unanimously after initial controversy.

The bills originally envisioned a limit of 0.5 milligrams of THC per dose, or 2 milligrams per container, a proposal that rankled the hemp industry. But after pushback from users and the industry, the language was liberalized with a strike-all amendment, mellowing the controversy, but apparently only temporarily.

The fact that the bill was heard last year was not lost on Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman, who confessed to “déjà vu” as she asked why this is up again.

“You may recall that the bill got slimmed down substantially, and the regulatory protections that we have in here for consumer protection were stripped out at the end,” the Manatee Republican contended.

Bartleman would maintain her opposition and would go on to say the bill was picking the marijuana industry as a “winner” and hemp as a “loser” and that the legislation harmed constituents in a way inconsistent with claims that this is the “Free State of Florida.”

Rep. Christine Hunschofsky expressed her concerns about the “arbitrary” position of this “business-busting” bill, which she believes runs counter to the state’s goals of protecting agriculture.

Legislators also questioned what is meant by the bill’s prohibition on marketing images deemed “attractive to children,” a term that will ultimately rely on subjective interpretation by regulators with legal discovery necessary to prove “intent,” Gregory claimed.

Gregory also opened the door to imposing some of the bill’s restrictions on the medical marijuana industry, whose multistate operators and doctors ironically would be the prime beneficiaries of these guidelines on the hemp sector, as they would be driven back to the medical market. But he signaled mixed intentions regarding the potential legalization of adult-use cannabis. However, he said that would be a “mistake.”

Will legislators stand firm in 2024 behind this aggressive proposal to impact the hemp sector permanently? Time will tell, as the amendments in the last process started between the first and second committee hearings.

Gregory sounded committed to his legislation in his closing, saying his bill is intended to address “dangerous” compounds and to redress “harm” in the marketplace. He added that just because 2023’s legislation was a “good bill” doesn’t mean the Legislature should stop trying to regulate the industry. Finally, he said he’d back marijuana THC caps, of the sort DeSantis said he opposed in previous years.

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