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Rumors of a cannabidiol, or CBD, crackdown by Sarasota police may have been premature. Reportedly the Sarasota Police Department received a half dozen or more complaints of illness from people who used the hemp extract. Police threatened to issue warnings via a letter to stores that sell the product to take it off the shelves within Sarasota city limits.

Now it appears that’s on hold.

“The letter is not completed at this time. It’s unknown when it will be completed,” said SPD spokeswoman Genevieve Judge via email on Tuesday. “We’re working with our state and local partners on this project.”

The news spread fear among CBD stores and others selling CBD products.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is reportedly taking a wait and see approach, anticipating a legislative solution.

“It is our understanding the legislature plans to take up some of the inconsistencies between state and federal law. Consistent with Sarasota County Government, we will wait for clarification from the legislature, said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kaitlyn Perez.

Already three businesses seeking permits to sell CBD have been turned down, according to Sarasota County spokesman Drew Winchester.

In an email from County Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, the businesses were told their applications were reviewed and after consultation with the County Attorney’s office, determined to “fall(s) within the definition of ‘cannabis’ in Florida law, which is not legal … unless distributed by a medical marijuana treatment center.”

“As a result, we are unable to approve your business use permit at this time. We are aware of other locations promoting the sale of CBD oil within the county, and are addressing the issue,” Thompson wrote.

The hemp derivative is sold in some pharmacies and stores, even some medical marijuana retail stores, as an oil or cream or infused in gummies with only a trace amount of the psychoactive THC ingredient found in marijuana. In other words, you can’t get high from CBD oil.

Low-THC cannabis, or CBD, has been medically determined to benefit people with certain conditions like cancer, epilepsy and a dozen others, according to the Florida Department of Health website.

In December, President Donald Trump signed into law Congress’s omnibus Farm Bill, taking hemp (technically a cannabis, like marijuana) off its list of schedule one illegal drugs at the federal level. States have yet to catch up with the federal change. It remains illegal in most states, including Florida, although Florida does have a legal pilot hemp program studying industrial use as a potential new and lucrative crop in agriculture.

But CBD’s status may be about to change.

On Jan. 17, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he would seek to amend the state law to allow smokeable medical marijuana, and reserved the right to address some of the other litigation surrounding the issue.

On the same day of DeSantis’ announcement, HB 333 was filed (Co-sponsors Ralph Massullo, MD, R-Beverly Hills, and Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven), creating a statewide hemp program — mirroring federal legislation that requires the derivative not contain more than 0.03 percent THC. The bill creates the program within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and requires hemp growers, distributors and those involved to register with the department.

On Feb. 14 an identical bill, SB 1058, was filed by Sen. Ben Albriton (R-Bartow). SB 1020, by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park), is a streamlined two-page bill that simply authorizes the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to establish a statewide hemp program.

Jeffrey Sharkey, with the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said his organization helped craft the new legislation that would legalize CBD and require all CBD products to be tested.

“We’re working on it right now,” Sharkey said. “There is enough interest now, and the oversight they want, to move this forward. I’m optimistic. This hemp industry is booming. People are putting hundreds of million of dollars into this.”

He’d heard of the Sarasota Police Department’s position on CBD, but believes the federal Farm Bill would trump any state or local interpretations of Florida law.

Dr. Barry Gordon, with Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, doesn’t sell CBD oils at his clinic but he, too, supports the right of others to sell the product, as long as it’s properly tested and sellers avoid making false claims about the health care product.

Gordon, who said his practice is the largest in Florida with 3,500 patients, doesn’t plan on selling CBD even when it becomes legal, preferring the properties and benefits of THC in the medical marijuana his clinic provides.

“It points out we’re driving through the fog with no headlights. Because of the myriad laws from the federal level to each state fashioning their own medical marijuana and industrial hemp programs … each state has been charged with navigating things for themselves. The point is nobody really knows what’s legal and what’s not at this point,” he said.

The hemp industry is already organizing. In place less than two weeks, the Florida Hemp Industries Association, co-founded by Taylor Patrick Biehl, issued its first press release on Feb. 15 announcing the new organization and proposed legislation establishing a state hemp program.

“With all the hemp activity and interest growing in the Sunshine State, FHIA was launched to provide opportunities and information to individuals and companies interested in becoming part of Florida’s emerging hemp industry,” Biehl said. “It’s used to create fiber, seeds, oils ad a myriad of products. Estimates from industry analysts predict the hem-CBD market could hit $22 billion in 2022.”

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