Pasco supports legalizing hemp as a crop

The Pasco County Commission has unanimously approved a resolution backing the legal cultivation of hemp in Florida.

The issue came up for discussion at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting, but was delayed for two weeks to give Commission Chairman Ron Oakley the chance to learn more about the issue.

When Commissioner Jack Mariano brought up the issue again, commissioners quickly approved it.

Board members had discussed the issue extensively during their Jan. 8 meeting, when Mariano encouraged his colleagues to support the resolution, noting that it will give farmers another crop option.

The passage of the U.S. Farm Bill changed everything, Mariano said. “It’s now going to allow local people to actually grow it and do something with it, as opposed to large corporations. This is like a monumental step forward.”

Hemp can be used to make CBD oils for people’s pain, rope, plastics and other materials, Mariano said.

“Farmers struggle, losing their orange groves – this just creates a huge market for Florida, itself.

“It puts the state in a great position,” Mariano said.

Unlike medical marijuana, which must be cultivated indoors, in controlled conditions, hemp can be grown outdoors, Mariano said.

“With all of this open farmland that we have, you can actually grow the hemp. Florida, especially in our area, we can actually get three crops year out of it. That could be a huge boon for us, to go stimulate agricultural, stimulate maybe some manufacturing,” Mariano said.

Joseph Heinzman, representing the Florida Sustainable Agriculture Coop, explained the difference between hemp and marijuana during the Jan. 8 discussion.

“Because they did go ahead and pass it at the federal level, several of Florida’s laws are going to have to change over the next six months to a year,” Heinzman said.

“As it stands right now, medical marijuana dispensaries are the only companies that can grow hemp in Florida. That’s causing, for lack of a better word, a monopoly at the moment.”

Heinzman’s organization is working to change state laws so farmers can grow hemp without the fear of it being considered marijuana.

He explained that hemp can be used for fiber and other products.

Commissioner Mike Wells spoke in favor of the shift.

“I was in Georgia a couple of weeks ago and they’ve got hemp farms there. I know the freeze kills it. We need it. It’s coming,” he said.  “I think we need to lead this. It would be a cool thing for the east side of the county for those farmers who can’t have citrus anymore. They can harvest that.”

Commissioner Mike Moore noted that it’s possible today to go into retail stories to purchase clothing, handbags and other items made using hemp fibers.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey also talked about various uses of hemp, including for birdseed, bedding for animals, and the manufacture of oil-based paints, and creams, moisturizing agents, cooking and plastic.

“I don’t doubt that this going to get fixed by the Legislature,” Starkey said. “I think if our state waits a long time, it puts our state at a disadvantage.”

Published January 30, 2019

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