Episode 44: Setting the Gold Standard



Joe: On this episode of the "CBD University Podcast," ensuring that cannabis and Florida continues to move forward, we will introduce you to the state's director of cannabis, and I have an update on where the state stands in the industry and how Global Widget is contributing to the economic impact. This is the "CBD University Podcast," and it starts right now. I'm Joe Agostinelli, host of the "CBD University Podcast." And if you're a returning listener, I welcome you back to our podcast. If you are a new listener, we are glad you found us on your podcast platform of choice. Don't forget you can watch full video episodes of our podcast on the Global Widget YouTube channel and the YouTube channels of our brands. You can also subscribe to our podcast, excuse me, on any of those platforms so you'll get notifications when new episodes are published each week. As you all know, we are committed to the safety, quality, and compliance of all our CBD products across our brands, Hemp Bombs, Nature's Script, and Perfect Paws Hemp for pets. You have met a number of the members of our in-house quality and compliance team on the podcast, and now, always proud to have our chief compliance officer, Margaret Richardson, a "Tampa Bay Business Journal," Top Corporate Counsel Award Honoree for 2020. And when it comes to the quality and compliance, we ensure all our products are in line with all state and federal regulations. And speaking of state regulations, on this episode, it's a privilege to be joined by the State of Florida's Director of Cannabis, Holly Bell. Holly, thanks for joining me today.

Holly: Well, Joe, thanks for asking me. It's great to be in Tampa and great to be here at your facility.

Joe: Yeah, thanks for coming down to the facility as we welcomed you for this recording and got a little tour of the facility earlier on, and we'll talk a little bit about that further down in the episode. But first, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your role as Director of Cannabis for the State of Florida.

Holly: So, about three years ago, I was in the banking world and I decided to leave banking and do consulting, and I naturally went into the cannabis consulting because I'd been exposed to that through banking. And that's where I met Commissioner Nikki Fried. One thing led to another and I noticed she was running. We started to dialogue and then she won the election and reached out to me and said, "Hey, I've got an idea. Would you apply and come down and work for me?" She interviewed me along with a lot of others and said, "I have this job and I have a vision for Florida and what this could do for Florida. I want to put in place a hemp program and here's what we have to do. And here's ultimately what I want it to look like. I want to offer you the position." So, I left Nashville where I had lived for 25 years and my husband and I made a decision to move to Tallahassee and help Florida create, and Commissioner Fried, the hemp program. And I did that in February 2019, and it has been an exciting event ever since then. Every day is different. Every day brings about new and exciting things. It's like the biggest puzzle you've ever had to figure out and you just have to think and strategize on a daily basis. So, I am thoroughly loving it.

Joe: Now, we'll talk a little bit about this a little...later on, we've got to talk about Nashville because I have never been there and I want to hear a little bit more about it and I love country music, so. But first, not to get off on a tangent, one of the topics we've discussed with our guest many times on this podcast is the Farm Bill of 2018. And how has the industry in Florida evolved since you've joined the state and in the terms of what that bill was hoping to be implemented?

Holly: So, that's a great question. When I got down here, CBD was already being sold everywhere. So, we got the cart a little bit in front of the horse, but that was happening nationwide. So, we get the Farm Bill in 2018, I come in and start immediately working in Tallahassee to get a bill passed so that we can mirror that Farm Bill here in the State of Florida. We get that passed and it is Senate Bill 1020, which opened up the hemp industry for Florida. Then after that became law in July, we started implementing our rules. We were tasked with as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to regulate the entire program. So, we had five rules we had to write to get that up and going. We got the very first ones actually in place with permitting January 1 of 2020. And the very last one, which was for cultivation was put in place and we started issuing cultivation permits on the 27th of April 2020. During COVID, we've continued to work and continued to keep the system up and going, refine it, get permits out, and we're up to thousands and thousands of permits now.

Joe: And as I mentioned, when you came back on board in 2019 as part of Commissioner Fried's team, you said it was time to realize the full potential of the industry for farmers and consumers here in the State of Florida. How is that process coming along now as we get towards the end of 2020?

Holly: So, first of all, it's offered a diversity crop for farmers. We have licensed 600...in excess of 600 farmers to cultivate hemp. There is no cost for the permit to cultivate currently, and that represents some 20,000 plus acres that those farmers have registered to plant. We haven't had nearly that quantity planted yet, but I do believe we will work up to that in the next year or year and a half. We're trying to figure out the genetics that work here. We're trying to figure out what season is best to grow in what zone in Florida, and the farmers are quickly figuring that out. So, we have about 600 plus farmers engaged in the process. They also hire people. That helps with revenue, wages, the economy, the industry. Then we have permitted about 12 processing plants that will take the crop, process it down to a crude oil, isolate or distillate. Those each in turn are employing various people, up to 100, like your facility here.

They also are doing something that I think is really important for Florida, they're taking old manufacturing facilities that were sitting abandoned, that were left from citrus or something else, and they're repurposing them for hemp. So, we're repurposing buildings in industrial areas, which I think is great for a lot of these cities and counties. Then we have some 200 manufacturers licensed here in the State of Florida. That also is employing people, creating facilities, creating revenue. Then we have about an equal number of distribution warehouses that are set up. And then we have close to 8,000 retailers now that are permitted. There are more out there I think that are probably selling that, but that's a process of us getting to them and educating them. So, all in all, the number of jobs that we've created, the revenue, the sales tax, I could go on and on for the opportunities that we've created for Florida.

Joe: Yeah. And that's what I was just mentioning as you were getting into that work talk and jobs, we're talking economic impact, we're talking impact on families, we're talking about the livelihoods of folks here who have all been impacted by this industry.

Holly: Yes. And it's a lot of different people in a very diverse group. That's what I love about it also. The diversity that I deal with is great. And we have people...the very first hemp conference I went to, I walked away and when I came home and my husband said, "What did you think?" And I said, "I have never in my life been around such a diverse group of people from age to religious background." Because I remember we had Amish people there that were embracing and we were all talking and interacting about our formulas and the products we were creating. We had people from...you know, the age difference I think I told you about, obviously, different geographic areas. It was just an amazing experience. And we all had one common passion and that was the hemp. And it really energized me to get into the industry full-time.

Joe: And as we talk on the federal side, and we await guidance from the USDA, the FDA on the CBD industry, I did see that you were in D.C. earlier this year. I saw that on the Facebook page. Any indication on where guidance stands and why is it so important to have some sort of federal regulation for the industry?

Holly: So, I was in D.C. and we do have a lobbyist that I work with and we keep informed and educated on what's going on. Any industry that has to deal with 50 different sets of rules and regulations is going to struggle. And that's what we've got now. We've got all the different states with their own state rules and regulations. So, as a business owner, think how complicated and costly that is. Getting it to a more unified, standardized set of rules is what the industry really needs to help it excel and take off. It's doing well now, but that standardization would really help it excel. So, the only natural thing for that is probably the states all bond together and come to an understanding, or a federal agency helps oversee that and steer and guide that for them. I think over the next two years, I would really like to see that in the industry.

Joe: And prior to recording this episode of our "CBD University Podcast," you had the opportunity to get a firsthand look at the Global Widget part of our facilities. Your thoughts on what you've seen here, and how Global Widget is contributing to the industry here in Florida?

Holly: So, the commissioner and I have always said the goal for Florida is the gold standard. And when I walked in here and got the facility I thought, "This is the gold standard. This is what the industry needs." You guys really have embraced that and brought that to Florida. Very impressive. And we just need to get the word out and let more and more people know. But yeah, no, you are a gold standard. This is exactly the vision that the commissioner had when she started the program.

Joe: All right. Yeah. We'll continue to live up to that expectation. And we're excited to hear your thoughts about that. And first of all, before we wrap up this episode and as we wrap up 2020, and heading to 2021, what are some of the items that consumers and farmers should be on the lookout for in the industry?

Holly: So, one of the things that I tell people is it is a new industry. It is somewhat of the wild, wild west sometime. So, trust, but verify. Always verify. And don't take an appearance as the final say so. Do a little investigation. Things can look really good, but there may not be a lot of depth there. That's important to research. The other thing that I would tell you is if you're going to consume a product, do look at the COA. We have a lab in our food safety group that does go out and pull products off shelf and do random testing. We have found in some products and tinctures that there are extremely high levels of heavy metals to include lead. And so, you want to be very careful what you're putting in your body. And what we found over time is bottles and containers were leaching into the product and that's where it was coming from. So, know who your manufacturer is, know that they're using quality sourced material before you go out and buy that product.

Joe: I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy day, I know you've got to get back up to Tallahassee, you know, for appearing on our podcast, and we hope to have you back again soon.

Holly: Oh, I hope so.

Joe: Once again, I want to thank you for taking the time, not only for appearing on our podcast, but also for your time here today at Global Widget, taking a tour of our company. We always appreciate being able to show off our capabilities, our team, and everyone involved here. So, thank you again for coming down.

Holly: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Joe: Once again, that's Holly Bell. She is the Director of Cannabis for the State of Florida. And I thank you for listening to this episode of the "CBD University Podcast." Reminders to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform of choice. You can also catch full video episodes of our podcast on the Global Widget YouTube channel and the YouTube channels of our brands. Wherever you subscribe, you'll get notifications when new episodes are uploaded each week. Once again, I'm Joe Agostinelli, the host of the "CBD University Podcast." Thanks for tuning in.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The CBD products are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. Always consult your personal physician about CBD and using CBD products. CBD should never be used by anyone under the age of 18. This content is not intended to provide legal advice regarding the legal status of CBD and CBD products.