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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

DeSantis vetoes a bill targeting the hemp industry

Cropped shot farmer checking marijuana or cannabis plantation in greenhouse. Alternative herbal medicine, health, hemp industry concept.
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Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered a victory to potential pot competitors by vetoing a measure that would have severely restricted the sales and production of euphoria-inducing hemp-based products.

The bill would have banned the sale of products containing what is known as delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol and limited the amount of delta-9 THC.

Gov. Ron DeSantis — who’s come out swinging against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow recreational marijuana — on Friday delivered a victory to potential pot competitors by vetoing a measure that would have severely restricted the sales and production of euphoria-inducing hemp-based products.

Lawmakers passed the bill (SB 1698) in March, with supporters arguing it would address safety concerns as the use of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, has boomed.

The bill would have banned the sale of products containing what is known as delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol and limited the amount of delta-9 THC. Delta-8 and delta-9 are cannabinoids in hemp that can get people high.

In a veto message Friday, DeSantis said the legislation’s “goals are commendable” but that it “would, in fact, impose debilitating regulatory burdens on small businesses and almost certainly fail to achieve its purposes.”

Hemp farmers and businesses that sell and manufacture hemp-derived products vehemently objected to the bill, saying it would effectively shutter the industry and cost the state thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lost revenue.

But the Senate unanimously approved the bill, and the House passed it in a 64-48 vote in the final days of this year’s legislative session.

DeSantis’ veto letter urged lawmakers to reconsider the issue during the 2025 legislative session “and engage with all relevant stakeholders to create a comprehensive regulatory framework for the manufacture and sale” of hemp and hemp-derived products.

“Sensible, non-arbitrary regulation will provide businesses and consumers alike with much-needed stability — safeguarding public health and safety, allowing legitimate industry to flourish, and removing bad actors from the market,” DeSantis wrote.

The Florida Healthy Alternatives Association, which represents the hemp industry, praised DeSantis’ decision.

“The Legislature heard our concerns, but didn’t fully appreciate the impact of their legislation. Governor DeSantis understands that everyday Floridians rely on hemp and CBD products to stay away from harmful and addictive medications and that thousands of Floridians have built local businesses to serve this critical need,” the group said in a prepared statement.

The veto letter offered a roadmap for a revamped bill, advising lawmakers to focus on quality control, retail sales and labeling, marketing and packaging.

Future legislation should “include random, unannounced inspections, standardized and repeated testing, and dosing, packaging, and unit purchase caps that better correspond to the character of the products and their intoxicating capabilities,” DeSantis wrote.

“Upon review, Senate Bill 1698's effort to address those limitations misses the mark,” he added.

In addition, the governor recommended that lawmakers “ensure that hemp-derived cannabinoids are sold behind the counter” and that hemp retail shops be distanced from schools, religious institutions and other places where children and families gather.

“These shops should not present themselves as medical offices, and the Legislature should consider measures to prevent the ubiquity and concentration of these retail locations in communities across the state,” his letter said.

"Governor DeSantis understands that everyday Floridians rely on hemp and CBD products to stay away from harmful and addictive medications and that thousands of Floridians have built local businesses to serve this critical need."
Statement by the Florida Healthy Alternatives Association

DeSantis also advised the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services “to continue using its full, existing authority to root out products that violate Florida law.” Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson has made a priority of ridding the state of hemp-based products that target children or produce euphoric effects.

In a statement Friday, Simpson said his department “will continue to aggressively implement the law.”

The Florida Healthy Alternatives Association enlisted the aid of some of the state’s top lobbyists to try to block the measure, and opponents launched an anti-veto campaign even before legislators passed the bill.

The association was among the biggest spenders on legislative lobbying during the first three months of the year, according to state lobbyist-registration records, which showed the group paid an estimated $155,000 to lobbyists from Jan. 1 through March 31. The 60-day legislative session ended March 8.

Two of the association’s key lobbyists — Evan Power and Bill Helmich — have worked for the group since 2022, according to the state lobbyist-registration website, and are leaders of the Republican Party of Florida. Power was elected chairman of the state party in January, and Helmich was appointed the party’s interim executive director in April.

The governor’s office was flooded with thousands of emails urging DeSantis to scrap the bill, vastly eclipsing a few dozen in favor of the measure.

Florida’s hemp industry has boomed in the five years since the Legislature authorized hemp to be grown in the state to take advantage of a federal farm law. Hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants, but levels of THC differ, with hemp having a THC level of 0.3 percent or less or a level that “does not exceed 2 milligrams per serving and 10 milligrams per container on a wet-weight basis, whichever is less.”

DeSantis last year signed a measure that prohibited the sale of hemp products to anyone under age 21, prohibited the sale or distribution of hemp-based products that are attractive to children and required hemp-processing facilities to meet safety standards.

Euphoria-inducing products targeted in the bill compete with products that are sold by the state’s medical-marijuana industry, which generates $2 billion in revenue annually by some estimates.

The governor’s veto gives a lift to the hemp industry in the run-up to the November election, when Floridians will decide whether to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow use of recreational marijuana.

The ballot proposal, if approved, would allow the state’s currently licensed medical-marijuana firms to begin selling recreational pot. The measure, Amendment 3, also would allow “other state licensed entities” to enter the market, potentially creating more competition for the hemp industry.

DeSantis has harshly criticized the proposed constitutional amendment, and opposition is expected to gather steam, possibly with the aid of the hemp industry.

The recreational marijuana initiative comes after Florida voters in 2016 approved an amendment authorizing medical marijuana. Florida has more than 600 medical-marijuana dispensaries.

“Every part of Florida, not just South Florida, I see marijuana stores. … but do we really need to do more? With that? Do we want to have more marijuana in our communities? I don't think it'll work out well, but it is a very, very broad amendment,” DeSantis said.

Dara Kam is the Senior Reporter of The News Service Of Florida.