CBD could be banned in Florida if hemp bill passes, advocates warn

CBD, a medication used by millions of Americans to battle a variety of illnesses and anxiety, could be banned entirely in Florida because of a bill that seeks to outlaw synthetic chemicals in hemp that can induce euphoria.

Paige Figi, considered the “mother of CBD” in the U.S. because of her crusade to legalize what became known as Charlotte’s Web, is attempting to sound the alarm about the bill. She is being joined by parents of children who desperately need the product and independent hemp growers worried their businesses would be devastated.

“I just don’t think the lawmakers are taking account of the millions of Floridians that are going to be medically affected by the removal of their health products,” Figi said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.

Figi was one of the key proponents of legalizing CBD both nationally and in Florida, where then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in 2014 giving certain patients access to cannabidiol oils with low levels of THC, the substance that causes euphoria in users.

The CBD company she founded, Charlotte’s Web, was named after her daughter, who had catastrophic epilepsy. CBD helped lessen the severity of her seizures before her death.

Now, as executive director of the pro-CBD group Coalition for Access Now, she has ramped up her efforts to oppose Florida bills HB 1613 and SB 1698.

They would redefine legal hemp to a level that would exclude naturally occurring cannabinoids such as CBD, reduce legal THC limits to below the level allowed in federal law, and increase the already rigorous testing on hemp products, according to the group Hemp for Florida.

“This would mean that we would have to shut down our mobile stores,” said Randy Rembert, the manager of hemp producer Rembert Family Farms in Alachua County. “Almost 70% of our bottom line comes from those various products that are being banned. … It also puts our farm in jeopardy, because so many farmers, so many businesses rely on our actual raw material to make their products as well.”

Tracy Thaxton, the mother of an 18-year-old daughter with severe epilepsy and autism, said CBD has almost completely prevented the repeated seizures her daughter once faced daily.

“Just the thought of this going through, it’s very scary to us,” said Thaxton, who lives outside Panama City. “Will we have to move? What’s going to happen to her? It’s not like I can just give her something else, you know?”

The bills are attempting to crack down on synthetic chemicals that simulate the highs created by THC, but are so sweeping that CBD itself is caught in the crossfire, Figi said.

The synthetics, Figi said, are “manmade, chemically laden, and they found a federal loophole through CBD and hemp to sell [them],” she said. “… That should absolutely be dealt with. The problem is that this bill is moving so hastily, so quickly, that the more than 2 million people in your state that are using CBD daily as a health product are being lumped in and carried away with the bathwater.”

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, passed the full chamber unanimously on Feb. 15. Just five days later, however, the House version, sponsored by state Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, was moved onto the House floor by a 17-12 vote from the Appropriations Committee.

Though the committee vote was largely along party lines, state Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, said he opposed the bill because of concerns that the THC caps would affect him and his elderly mother, who both use CBD products for pain, according to the Floridian Press.

Gregory has defended his bill, saying in the committee hearing that the Legislature has “made mistakes” by regulating marijuana, a separate product from hemp, instead of THC itself.

On Monday, there was no indication of when the bill would be up for a full House vote.
Gregory and Burton did not return requests for comment. Julia Freidland, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said the governor would review the bill if it reached his desk.

The increased opposition in the House to the bill gave Figi some optimism that her message is being heard.

“I think things have changed as people got wind of it,” she said. “So things have slowed down. … I just want them to slow down enough to carve out this [provision].”

While the recent opposition in the House has largely come from Democrats, Figi said she has worked successfully with Republicans before.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin amended a similar bill that reached his desk to remove the more sweeping language on CBDs. That rewritten bill was ultimately passed, she said.

Many Virginia lawmakers she spoke with said they had been “ill-informed, betrayed and manipulated” by some of the larger medical marijuana dispensary companies pushing the bill, and she said the same thing is happening in Florida.

“The only people who want CBD removed from the state of Florida, which is what these bills are going to do, are the people who [own] dispensaries,” she said. “They want it out of the state. It’s a financial competition.”

Rembert said that while some lawmakers may not have realized the full sweep of the bill, “a handful of legislators were well aware of the damage that his bill could do.”

Thaxton pleaded with legislators to amend the bill for the sake of her daughter and others who use CBD for treatment.

“Please do not restrict our access to this product,” Thaxton said. “It’s natural. It doesn’t have any negative side effects. And it’s been a miracle for us. It’s life or death for our daughter.”