Naked Politics

New FL hemp trade group named its first president. He might sound familiar.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, former Lieutenant Governor under former Gov. Rick Scott, will be taking on a new, greener role.

The Hemp Industries Association of Florida, a trade association to promote the crop, announced Wednesday that Lopez-Cantera will head the group as its first president. The association opened shop in Florida this past February.

The new role will be formally announced at an association event in Tallahassee Thursday afternoon.

Lopez-Cantera, whose family has owned an avocado farm in the Redlands since the late 1990s, said he became interested in hemp after learning of changes in federal hemp law earlier this summer.

“There is no question that homegrown, Florida hemp will play a major part in strengthening our state’s agricultural and economic vitality,” he said. “With a welcoming business environment, ideal growing conditions and a talented farmer and entrepreneurial base, Florida is the perfect place to set the pace for such an exciting industry that is quickly taking shape.”

He added that once the regulatory framework is in place, he looks forward to introducing hemp as a crop on his own family’s farm.

State officials say farmers could get hemp plants in the ground as soon as January, and applicants are itching to get a license to grow the plant, which hasn’t grown as a crop in Florida since the 1940s.

Holly Bell, the state’s cannabis commissioner said during a committee meeting in Tallahassee Tuesday that more than 3,000 people are interested in growing hemp to create lucrative products like CBD oil. Bell said the first two years of hemp production could bring in several million dollars a year.

A bill passed last legislative session gave a green light for the Florida Department of Agriculture to create a state hemp program, that would be approved by the USDA. While the state’s department is close to finalizing the rules (officials expect another two weeks or so), USDA won’t approve any state’s plans until its only rules, made legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, are finalized.

It only just submitted them to the White House for approval Monday.

“After all the horrible things agriculture has had to deal with in Florida, this plant can revitalize and create new and exciting opportunities,” Lopez-Cantera said.

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.