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All right, folks, hold on to your hats because the Sunshine State’s pot plot thickens.

Just when we thought Florida’s hemp farmers might get a minute to enjoy their green pastures, the Legislature is ready to plow them under.

Buckle up; this isn’t your grandma’s reefer madness.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Florida has entered its cannabis era — whether state-regulated, medical, or recreational. A statewide initiative to get recreational marijuana on the November ballot is so popular that it seems almost inevitable to be on the November ballot and gain voter approval.

Not surprisingly, this has spurred a preemptive push for tighter guardrails, and not just on recreational marijuana. Another cannabis-related battle, one that seems born of fear and misinformation, is living in the shadow of our girl Mary Jane and moving through the Senate at breakneck speed.

Who is in control of the Florida Legislature — are they answering to a ‘higher’ power?

SB 1698, being pushed by Sen. Colleen Burton, and HB 1613, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Gregory, are both moving. Burton’s bill received only two committee references, which we all know is a sure sign that this thing is getting fast-tracked to the Senate floor. So why is no one asking: What’s the rush?

After undergoing a serious glow-up last year with unanimous bipartisan support, Florida’s hemp industry may be hit with a new round of significantly harsher and far less popular regulations. It’s hard to understand why some lawmakers are so eager to dismantle reforms negotiated among members, the industry, and other stakeholders to produce a law everyone could get behind — something increasingly rare in Florida’s political landscape.

Sure, SB 1698 and HB 1613 are flying under the noble banner of protecting kids. But they’re also a Trojan horse stuffed with overt-the-top restrictions on THC — language that lawmakers removed from the bill last year, for very good reason. This raises the question, is this whiplash self-induced or is someone else driving the train?

It seems these severe regulations are designed to make it exceptionally difficult for the hemp industry to continue as it exists today — an industry that made good-faith changes to comply with last year’s regulations. I find it curious that some legislators seem hellbent on making these hemp products, which are perfectly legal under federal law, so much more difficult to access. This might drive folks straight into Mary Jane’s arms. Is this a windfall to prop up the medical marijuana industry before recreational weed is legalized and shakes up the game?

Let’s not forget that hemp is the cousin who doesn’t cause trouble at family reunions — it’s low on THC and won’t get you soaring. Regulated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, it provides several possible wellness benefits.

Who is in control of the Florida Legislature — are they answering to a ‘higher’ power?

Last year’s law did the sensible thing, raising the age limit to purchase hemp products to 21, increasing packaging and labeling requirements, and cracking down on the vile marketers who designed hemp products and labels to appeal to children. Armed with this law, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson led the incredibly successful “Operation Kandy Krush,” which got nearly 70,000 products that appeared to target children off the shelves. Everyone loves a victory lap they can get behind.

In the wake of all this success, what’s driving this year’s push for even more changes? What am I missing?

Not to mention, the laws enacted last year are still in the rule-making process. This means that before the rules are even in place, certain elected officials are trying to change the laws again, spreading confusion and problems in an industry that made substantial changes last year. Since we know the laws are working, are these new bills a way of dealing with issues in rule-making?

Or is this a sign of interference by some “higher” power?” During testimony on the legislation, several hemp industry members have suggested as much. With recreational marijuana on the horizon, most likely undercutting the medical marijuana market, is this a move to corner the cannabis market before the recreational stuff can be approved?

When did legislative leaders adopt governmental overreach as their go-to strategy?

Overreach used to be a bad word among conservatives, who railed against the government picking winners and losers. But it seems that something is motivating members to smoke out the hemp industry. Whether it’s campaign money, another player in the cannabis world, or something else, we can probably guess their motivation is green.

After all, where there’s smoke …

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