Pubdate: Tue, 27 Mar 2018
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Author: Deborah Strange


GAINESVILLE -- The University of Florida could start growing
industrial hemp as soon as the fall.

But the project still has to pass some hurdles before planting begins,
said Rob Gilbert, chairman of the UF/IFAS agronomy department.

The university's board of trustees approved the project Friday, and
now the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration must approve importing
industrial hemp seeds. Then the project needs to secure the $1.3
million it needs and the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Services must approve a planting permit.

Those steps all are necessary because hemp is related to marijuana,
though it has almost none of the substance that makes people high.

A longstanding effort to make hemp a legal cash crop in the U.S. got a
boost Monday from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky,
who said he will introduce legislation removing it from the federal
list of controlled substances.

McConnell previewed legislation seeking to free the plant from its
ties to marijuana and let it take root as a legitimate crop.

"We're going to give it everything we've got to pull it off," the
Senate's top leader told hemp advocates in his home state.

The crop has been grown on an experimental basis in a number of states
in recent years, and Kentucky has been at the forefront of hemp's
comeback. Kentucky agriculture officials have approved more than
12,000 acres to be grown in the state this year, and 57 Kentucky
processors are helping turn the raw product into a multitude of products.

UF hopes, Gilbert said, to begin planting industrial hemp this fall or
winter in Homestead before planting elsewhere across the state in the

UF's research will examine what varieties of hemp grow well in
Florida, how to manage the plant, whether it would harm native plants
and what economic benefits or detriments the crop will bring.

Industrial hemp has multiple uses, including health foods, organic
body care, clothing, construction materials, biofuels and plastic
composites, according to a 2013 article in Forbes.

Although it once was a widespread crop in the U.S., used for rope and
sails and paper, hemp's biological similarity to marijuana caused its
cultivation to be effectively outlawed. The last crop was grown in
Wisconsin in 1958, according to Forbes.

Hemp is part of the Cannabis sativa family, of which marijuana is a
member. But industrial hemp has less than 0.3 percent of THC, the
primary psychoactive agent in marijuana.

Hemp does contain CBD, which can act as a pain reliever.

But UF's research won't be related to the variety used for medical
marijuana, Gilbert said, adding that even though they come from the
same plant, they're too different to research together.

"A Great Dane and a Chihuahua are the same species," he said.

Positive results from the research would allow help Florida farmers
diversify their crops, Gilbert said, which is especially important as
citrus trees become damaged by the bacterial greening disease.

It's too early to know what kind of effect the research will have on
Florida's agricultural industry, Gilbert said, although he's hoping
the research shows industrial hemp can be a sustainable crop in the
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