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Will Hemp Get Over the Hump in Florida?

PHOTO: Jodi James and her colleagues at the Florida Cannabis Action Network display their wares, all made from hemp, at the Florida State Capitol. Photo credit: Phil Latzman
PHOTO: Jodi James and her colleagues at the Florida Cannabis Action Network display their wares, all made from hemp, at the Florida State Capitol. Photo credit: Phil Latzman
February 23, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A table full of hemp products recently made for a strange sight inside Florida's Capitol building, especially when growing the plant here is illegal.

The display was set up to promote new legislation to legalize and regulate the cultivation of hemp farming, for use in beauty care, food and other products.

Hemp itself is benign, but leaves from other species of cannabis plants can produce hallucinogenic forms of marijuana, so it is lumped in with the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Jodi James, executive director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, says Florida is missing out.

"There's millions of dollars, actually half a billion dollars worth of hemp products being imported in to the United States every year,” she advises. “They're on the shelves in our Targets, our Costcos, our health food stores. This is a great industrial opportunity for our state."

In Florida, it's technically illegal to sell any hemp product, though James says the law is only selectively enforced.

If the bills pass, the Florida Department of Agriculture would set up guidelines for farmers to begin growing hemp, which James says could be harvested year-round in the state's warm climate.

James adds her group will be working hard to erase what she calls the marijuana stigma that's improperly attached to hemp.

"It's totally non-euphoric,” she stresses. “There's no harms to it. It's not going to get someone high. It's not going to do anything except feed you, clothe you and house you."

That's right. In addition to its applications in food, cosmetics, paper and clothing, hemp fibers are also being promoted as materials for home construction.

Structural engineer Bob Clayton got approval to build his Florida house with what’s called hempcrete.

"I imported $6,500 worth of hemp from England to build my house,” he explains. “And it's about a 1,600-square-foot house, three-bedroom. This housing is perfect for Florida."

Clayton says his energy bills are a fraction of what they used to be and that hempcrete is even strong enough to stand up to Florida's strict hurricane building codes.

Phil Latzman/Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - FL