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Senate Committee Hears Update on Florida’s Hemp Program and How FWC Spends $49.95 Million on Invasive Species

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (FNN) – The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government met on February 16, 2021.

The committee received an update on Florida’s Hemp Program from Holly Bell, Director of Cannabis for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (FDACS). Ms. Bell said that Florida’s program has become a model program for other states.

A short overview of the program showed that:

  • Florida’s Hemp Plan was approved by the USDA in April 2020
  • Along with paper applications, FDACS accepts applications and issues licenses via an online portal
  • FDACS issued its first cultivation license in late April 2020
  • USDA issued the final rule as of January 19, 2021, and it was supposed to take effect March 22, 2021, but the new administration is reviewing all rules
  • Florida rules align very well with the USDA’s final rule

Ms. Bell said that there are three divisions within FDACS that regulate the program, and they are the Division of Agriculture and Environmental Services which oversees the seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, and animal feed; the Division of Plant Industry which regulates the cultivation; and the Division of Food Safety which oversees processing, manufacturing and retailing.

As of this meeting, the following permits/licenses have been issued:

  • 18 – Seed dealer permits
  • 29 – Hemp animal feed distribution permits
  • 800+ – Cultivation licenses
  • 7,194 – Retail licenses
  • 280 – Manufacturing licenses
  • 219 – Warehouse licenses
  • 38 – Distribution licenses
  • 15 – Processors/Extractors licenses

The committee then heard about the invasive plants and animals in the state from Mellisa Tucker, FWC’s Director of Habitat and Species Conservation, and Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Ms. Tucker gave the following breakdown of the impacts of invasive fish, wildlife, and plants:

  1. Ecological Impacts
    1. Competition with native species
    2. Habitat alteration
    3. Direct predation by animals
    4. Diseases and parasites
  2. Human Health and Safety
  3. Economic Impacts
    1. $120 billion annually in the United States

FWC fights invasive species in several ways:

  • Prevention
    • Risk assessment/screening
    • Regulation
    • Enforcement
    • Education and Outreach
  • Control and Management
    • Early detection/rapid response
    • Removal
  • Research Support and Innovation
  • Partner and Stakeholder Coordination

Ms. Tucker said that FWC’s invasive species budget for 2020/21 breaks down like this:

  • Nonnative Fish and Wildlife Program – $3.63 million
  • Invasive Plants – $40 million
  • Lionfish Control – $1.22 million
  • Law Enforcement – $5 million
    • Total of $49.95 million

The committee also unanimously passed SB 524 – FWC Trust Funds. The FWC has 13 agency-administered trust funds and all are scheduled for review during the 2021 legislative session. Some of the trust funds require updating so that they are in line with the other trust funds, this bill is intended to do just that, and SB 588 which designates the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area as the Kristen Jacobs Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area, after the late Florida State Representative Kristen Jacobs who died of cancer in April 2020. Representative Jacobs was a huge supporter of conservation and climate change policies.

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Lynn DeJarnette is a reporter for Florida National News. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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