Episode 67: Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried



Joe: On this special edition of the "CBD University Podcast," we are joined in the studio by Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried. Get the latest on the hemp industry in Florida, its explosive growth over the past year, her goals for the industry, and how Florida works with manufacturers to set industry standards nationwide. This is a special edition of the "CBD University Podcast," and it starts right now.

Joe: I'm Joe Agostinelli, host of the "CBD University Podcast." And if you are a returning listener, welcome back to our podcast. If you are a new listener, we are glad you found us on your podcast platform of choice. A reminder as always that you can subscribe to our podcast wherever you get your podcasts and get notifications when new episodes are published each week and catch full video episodes of the "CBD University Podcast" on the Global Widget YouTube channel and the YouTube channels of our brands Hemp Bombs and Nature's Script. And if you've been following along on our podcasts if you remember back on Episode 44, and if I'm doing my math correct, that's about 23 episodes ago, we introduced you to the director of cannabis for the state of Florida, Holly Bell. In this episode, we are honored to have with us in studio the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Nikki Fried. Nikki, welcome to the podcast.

Nikki: Thank you for having me.

Joe: First of all, some background information for our listeners and viewers outside of the Florida area. What does the department oversee in the state? When were you elected Commissioner? How long is the term?

Nikki: Yep. I was first elected in 2018 after two recounts. I was part of the Florida recount nightmare of 2018 with the governor and the U.S. Senate seat. I won by 6,753 votes over 8.2 million cast, so pretty tight election. I am now the 12th Commissioner of Agriculture, the first female ever elected here in the state of Florida, and the position is so vast and varied. We've got 19 divisions overseeing everything from obviously agriculture which is our number two economic driver here in our state, to all of our consumer services, that's our state fairs and fairgrounds, and all of our school nutrition program across the state. So the school meal programs, our food banks, to concealed weapons which is a question that I probably get more than anything else is, "Can I have my medical marijuana card and my concealed weapons card?" I tell everybody, "I've got both." So take it from there. We oversee everything from our Office of Energy. If you've been to a gas station in the last two years, you'll see my name on the gas station pumps. We have our weights and measures. So everything from the gas stations to food stores. When we're finally back to traveling, seeing our measures on the weights at the airports, so we have such a vast array of things that we see, so basically, anything you have interaction with every single day, we've had some kind of role and a regulatory oversight.

Joe: As I mentioned in the intro, Holly Bell joined us for a podcast previously, and you actually created that position after taking office. So why the expansion into cannabis?

Nikki: It was one of my platform issues. For those who didn't follow my campaign, I had three messages, and it was 3W's, water, weapons, and weed. As we said that I oversee our agriculture water also, weapons, that's a conceal, and weed. I first came from the cannabis industry, to begin with. I was a lobbyist for the industry for about 3+ years and was tired of basically weed and marijuana not advancing itself here in the state of Florida that, you know, access to our patients for medical marijuana, and then also saw that across the entire country and wanted to make sure that we were moving the ball forward when it came to cannabis expansion. And felt that cannabis as the plant not only on the medical side but also on the hemp side was going to be the future of the agriculture for the state of Florida, and wanted to make sure that we had attention given to that when I first took office. And so created this position of cannabis director for the state to not only deal with some portions that we oversee in the marijuana world, which is the edibles and some fertilizers, some pesticides, but also for creation of the hemp industry here in the state. And so I found Holly and opened up the applications, and I can tell you that I received more applications for the cannabis director than any other position in my entire administration. We got applications from Canada, from California, from Oregon, from Washington, from Israel. Everybody wanted to be cannabis director, and we found Holly, and she has been just dynamic.

Joe: And you talk about the hemp industry in Florida, and Florida might be best known for fresh fruit and vegetables, but the hemp industry has seen some remarkable growth since last spring when Florida's hemp program was first approved. Correct?

Nikki: That's correct. So we had my first legislative session as Commissioner. We pushed a bipartisan bill to legalize the growing and manufacturing and production of hemp here in the state, and it also gave me authorization to regulate the CBD market. And so we were able to pass the legislation. We started working on rules almost immediately. And as of January 1 of 2020, everybody who has had some type of manufacturing and retail processing plants in the state had to re-register with us for CBD. And on April 27th, I tried on April 20th. I was seven days shy of getting my rules out on time but was able to put out our cultivation rules. And so now we've got almost a year under our belt of cultivation and about 30,000 acres that have been applied for and growing here in the state. I have an anticipation of this being a $20 to $30 billion industry here for the state of Florida within the next five years and about 100,000 to 300,000 acres of grow. And just for comparison, talking about our citrus industry as being the number one, you know, everybody knows about citrus. It's on our license plates. The citrus industry has right now a little under 300,000 acres. So you can see where my dreams are for our state that the hemp plant is going to be equivalent to the amount of land as our citrus industry.

Joe: And obviously, for an industry that occupies that amount of land and a high amount of acreage, that means economic impact. And we talked about the, you know, impact to the industry, but what about the job creation and job growth?

Nikki: Yeah. That is part of it and even more so now after this pandemic. We know that so many people across our state have lost their jobs or have been underemployed, not just unemployed. And so creating a new industry that is going to boom and bring jobs here to our state, we haven't had a new industry in our state in generations. And so knowing that I'm a small part of bringing hope to so many people in our state who wanna be involved in this industry. Already we have almost 10,000 jobs that have come to the state because of the hemp legalization, and that's just going to continue to grow every single day that more manufacturing plants are opening, more hemp grows are growing, processing plants, retail locations, and this is really gonna be something that is gonna be so great for our economy and for our people.

Joe: And prior to the recording of our podcast, you had the opportunity to take a tour of our main facility here in Tampa, Florida. Your thoughts on what you saw?

Nikki: Very impressive. I've had the opportunity over the last five years to see everything from THC grows and manufacturing out in the West Coast to the East Coast and everything here in the state of Florida. You have a terrific, amazing operation here. Just the professionalism and the science that you all are doing, the precision of making sure that your products are safe for the consumers, that you're creating that training ground for your employees and really being a leader in this industry and showing everybody else how it needs to get done. You make my job a lot easier.

Joe: Well, we're glad to hear that. Thank you. And what challenges does the industry face? Obviously, you know, you're at the level where you're probably in touch with the FDA and federal agencies regarding CBD in a revolving door. It seems like with news every day out of the industry. What challenges are there moving forward, and what are we going to see maybe coming from DC in the next few months or maybe towards the next year?

Nikki: Yeah. There's a lot of issues from DC. You know, a lot of it came from trying to explain the differences between hemp and marijuana, and that started when the Farm Bill passed in 2018 when we were able to start kind of opening that door. So a lot of it is education. Then we have been working really with the USDA since the Farm Bill passed to make sure that their rules and regulations were not overregulated. I'm somebody that, even though I'm a regulator, I want the industry to succeed, and that means that we gotta do what's right but not overregulate to the point that companies can't grow and expand. So really working with the USDA to make sure that they were doing right by our farmers and by the industry. But yeah, we've got a problem with the FDA right now. The FDA doesn't know how to regulate this. And so you've got a lot of companies who are trying to do good and are trying to do right and are in limbo because they don't know if the FDA is gonna put out rules, what kind of parameters are they gonna put into place. Are they going to treat it as a nutraceutical? Is it going to be treated as a food supplement, or are they going to stay out of it and just let kind of the USDA and the states regulate this? The other issue is exporting that we know that there is, and something that I've been really pushing because I know that so many of our companies are excited about the opportunity to export their products both as the raw plant but also as finished products overseas. And unfortunately, a lot of countries overseas still see the hemp plant as a narcotic. And so Department of Commerce has had a real issue trying to figure out how to promote products that internationally could be considered a narcotic. So we've been working with them and think that a solution has been that the USDA is taking back ownership of the exporting of their product and is gonna be using their marketing division to work with companies to start exporting and use this as an agricultural commodity.

Joe: Now, we certainly hope we can keep in contact and have you back. I know your schedule is kind of tight today but maybe if we do something, even be a ZOOM for a future episode. I'd love to know even more all about that. So I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy day to join us for this episode.

Nikki: Absolutely. And I do love that you are doing these episodes, you know, because a lot of it is education. It's really trying to educate the consumer to be looking for those QR codes, be looking for the labels, looking for the Department of Agriculture's license when you're going in to buy products. Making sure that retailers understand that they have to comply and register with our department. So you all doing these podcasts and getting the word out to the community, and making people aware these are safe products. This is for your health and wellness. This isn't going to get you high. This is gonna justmake you feel better.

Joe: Well, thank you, Nikki, for those words. We look forward to keeping in touch and have you back on our podcast. Nikki Fried, Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. My guest on this special edition of the "CBD University Podcast." And for more information on Florida's hemp program, visit fdcas.gov navigate to hemp and CBD in Florida. And stay on top of the latest industry news and trends by subscribing to the "University Podcast" on your favorite podcast platform of choice and you'll get notifications each week when new episodes are published. I'm Joe Agostinelli, the host of the "CBD University Podcast." Thanks for tuning in.

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