TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Hemp and cannabis research was illegal until 2014 when Congress allowed it in the Farm Bill. A little-noticed provision of the new medical marijuana law in Florida allows state universities to conduct research. That’s a first for Florida, but not for other states like Kentucky, which is leaps and bounds ahead of Florida when it comes to this emerging industry.
Later this month, farmers in Kentucky will put their hemp third crop into the ground. Ryan Quarles, the state’s agriculture commissioner, the youngest statewide elected official in America, sees a bright future. “We know it will grow well in our state. We have a long history in our state, but we want to see what sort of products and processors we can attract here and approach industrial hemp as an economic development initiative” says Quarles.
Florida is hoping to get into the action. The next to last line of the medical marijuana bill this year allows Florida colleges and universities with agricultural programs to research hemp and cannabis.
Florida A&M is ready to jump on the bandwagon, says Tim Moore, the school’s Vice President for Research.
“What we’re going to do is do research on it to make our industry more competitive, make our industry more effective and more ecologically sound. Those are the traits we’ll bring to the table” says Moore.
Just outside Lexington, a hemp research campus has taken over this old tobacco facility.
“It crushes the seed and the oil comes out here,” explains owner Andy Graves.
Politicians, farmers and researchers here believe that the future of hemp is so bright, that it will eventually be the biggest cash crop here in Kentucky.
“These are completely full of processed hemp material,” Graves said as we walked through another warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with plastic containers of crushed hemp, grown on just a hundred acres and ready to be processed into hemp oil or CBD…better known as ‘Charlotte’s Web.’
“It’s better than or equal to in soybean production or corn production in terms of net dollars per acre,” Graves says.
Kentucky is one of more than two dozen states who are actively researching hemp, which means Florida has some catching up to do.
Kentucky is expected to have 4,000 acres of hemp growing this year, and while Florida is slow to embrace this emerging industry, the advantage it has over other states is climate. Here, farmers could sow as many as three crops a year, while others are limited to one or two.