Growing Hemp Could Mean Big Business for Florida

Florida's hemp farming program, signed into law on July 1, makes it legal to grow the plant in the state with a special permit.

Florida is known for growing oranges, but it could soon be known for growing something else – hemp.

Hemp looks and smells like marijuana but it has very little THC – the chemical that makes people high.

Florida's hemp farming program, signed into law on July 1, makes it legal to grow the plant in the state with a special permit.

NBC 6 Investigators got behind the scenes access to one local hemp farm in Homestead. It houses the first hemp seeds to be planted in the state in more than 70 years.

Zachary Brym, a University of Florida researcher, is in charge of a pilot project to "explore the potential to grow industrial hemp across the state." The goal is to figure out which plants grow best under the Florida sun.

"There's a lot of pressure, that's for sure," Brym told NBC 6 Investigators. "The science takes time, the research takes time."

Brym and his team are growing eight different varieties of hemp plants at the Homestead farm. The plants come from all over the world, including Canada, Europe and China.

Extracts from hemp plants are used in all types of CBD products - from oils to gummies. It's a multi-million dollar industry and Florida wants a piece of it.

"The growth has been something like I've never seen," said Arby Barroso, the co-founder of South Florida-based Green Roads.

Currently, CBD companies like Green Roads, which has invested over a million dollars in the University of Florida's pilot program, have to buy hemp-based CBD from other states.

But that could soon change.

Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried wants all CBD products sold in the state to be grown locally in the next two years.

"We've got a lot of acres here in the state of Florida, a lot of our agricultural community that's excited and motivated to get involved in hemp," she said.

Fried expects more than 100,000 Florida acres to be filled with hemp.

"We are going to be the leaders across the country when it comes to growing of hemp," the commissioner said. "We'll be known for hemp."

While researchers like Brym figure out how to make sure hemp plants thrive, the CBD companies are working with farmers to make sure they can get enough of it to make their products.

"24 months, that's going to be really tight," Barroso said referring to the commissioner's plans.

It could be a problem but it's also a deadline that hasn't been firmly planted by state authorities.

The state is currently coming up with rules on how farmers can apply for a permit to grow hemp and which seeds they can use.

The rules could be in place by the fall.

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