ICYMI: This opinion piece by Sen. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland) appeared in the Lakeland Ledger on May 1, 2023.

While this is my freshman year in the Florida Senate, I served in the Florida House of Representatives for eight years. I know firsthand the ins and outs of the state legislature and the value of informed, passionate public testimony. And this year, as the sponsor of Senate Bill 1676 – a well-intended piece of legislation related to hemp that, as originally filed, raised legitimate concerns –  I’ve certainly seen the power of this process.

To be clear, Senate Bill 1676 was developed in partnership with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Wilton Simpson to ensure all food products made with hemp, including the increasingly popular delta-8, are held to the same non-negotiable standards as other food products in Florida, requiring that the labels are accurate and the ingredients are transparent. Perhaps most importantly, though, the bill prohibits individuals under 21 years of age from purchasing these products, while also protecting children from misleading marketing that often makes them appear as candy.

Children should not be able to walk into their neighborhood gas station and pick up a bag of hemp-derived products that look exactly like Skittles or Sour Patch Kids, designed with the same colors, similar fonts, and often the same brand name, the only difference being a small, almost undetectable warning label. But, as of today, they can, and I think we can all agree that’s a problem – especially when considering that, of the nearly 2,400 toxic exposure cases to delta-8 products that were reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2022, 41 percent of them were pediatric cases involving children under five years of age. 

From the start, I’ve approached this issue as a concerned citizen, a mother and a grandmother who just wants to keep Florida’s children safe. That’s why I instinctually supported the idea of also incorporating caps on the level of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol – the naturally occurring compound in cannabis plants that creates a euphoric state or “high” – legally allowed in hemp-derived products into Senate Bill 1676. These products, such as delta-8, produce an effect similar to that of traditional marijuana, but unlike marijuana, they can be accessed without going through a dispensary or registering for a medical license. It seemed reasonable to institute some additional regulation.

Throughout recent legislative session committee meetings, Senate Bill 1676 and its companion bill in the House, House Bill 1475, were presented to members for discussion, questions, and debate. Additionally, the committee meetings gave opportunities for the public to provide input. My colleague, State Rep. Will Robinson (R-Bradenton) and I heard from various stakeholders, including farmers and small business owners. We held meetings in our offices, via zoom and spoke with them on the phone, presenting our side of the argument, yet truly listening and appreciating their concerns about the bill as it was. 

The legislature is committed to working together with Floridians to make laws that help, not hurt, constituents. We listen, we strive to do the most good for the most people – particularly vulnerable populations like children – and this is an open, collaborative process that works.

I look forward to continuing this important conversation to protect Floridians from the dangers of unregulated hemp.

Florida State Sen. Colleen Burton is a Republican representing Senate District 12 in Lakeland and serves as Chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, Vice Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Appropriations Committee on Education, Appropriation Committee on Health & Human Services, and others.