When former Lt. Gov Carlos Lopez-Cantera announced weeks ago that he joined the Hemp Industry Association of Florida as its president, it caught my eye for a number of reasons. Former elected officials are joining cannabis and hemp companies and organizations at an increasing rate, and Florida is positioned to be a “business-friendly” hemp state, once the final rules are adopted. (Updated draft rules can be read here.)
Lopez-Cantera, Florida’s 19th lieutenant governor from 2014 to 2019, was the first Hispanic to serve in the role. Lopez-Cantera was also the Majority Leader in the Florida House of Representatives, and also served as Miami-Dade County’s property appraiser.
Some background: Florida officials expect the hemp rules to be finalized “soon,” Max Flugrath, a spokesperson for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, told Cannabis Wire, adding, “Our goal is to have seeds in the ground by the end of the year, but we certainly expect seeds to be in the ground by early next year.”
Flugrath continued, “Once the state hemp program rules are adopted, our Department will be able to begin testing cannabis products for safety and quality, and can begin enforcing the new standards to ensure consumers can trust what they’re ingesting. Producers will be given a reasonable amount of time to adhere to the new safety and quality standards.”
Fried, a supporter of cannabis and hemp law reform, championed the passage of SB 1020, the state’s hemp legislation.
The “hemp bill signing marks a transformation in Florida, and a critical step on the journey to creating a green industrial revolution, strengthening agriculture with an alternative crop of the future, and expanding access to safe, quality CBD products,” Fried said in a statement. “Florida has the potential to become the gold standard on hemp — our deep agricultural heritage, climate and resources, and farming infrastructure will make Florida a national leader in this emerging new economy.”
I wanted to talk to Lopez-Cantera about the evolution of thought that he went through to lead him from second-in-command for the state of Florida, to president of the Hemp Industry Association of Florida. I also wanted to know who was eyeing the soon-to-be burgeoning industry: orange farmers? Avocado growers? Turns out, both types of farmers are expected to be hemp crop converters.
(This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.)
Alyson Martin, Cannabis Wire: It caught my eye that you, a former lieutenant governor, joined the Hemp Industry Association of Florida. When did your interest in hemp arise, and was there a catalyst?
Former Lt. Gov Carlos Lopez-Cantera, HIA of Florida: Actually, earlier this year I was at an unrelated meeting at the USDA in D.C., and it came up in conversation. And that’s what really started my interest. The fact that it became federally legal. One thing led to another, one conversation led to another, and then it led me to the folks at the HIAF.
Martin: That’s a pretty big leap. Can you take me from that first inkling of “that’s kind of interesting,” to the announcement I received in my inbox? Can you describe that transition a little?
Lopez-Cantera: At the front end, it had a lot to do with Google. I was just researching, watching YouTube documentaries. I was just doing a little homework on the subject. Being in the private sector, I was looking for opportunities in real estate, looking for opportunities to add value to property. Having had a family farm that we use for commercial purposes for over 20 years, it piqued my interest, as far as a potential crop for the farm. And it was the federal legalization that really made it the most interesting, because of the dynamics of medical marijuana for instance, that is federally illegal, yet in several states legal, whereas this was federally legal so there was no question mark. And then there was a conversation that I had with a friend who brought me to the attorney that represents the Hemp Industry Association, who then connected me with them, who I had known previously from my time in government.
Martin: Do you think hemp could open the door to a conversation about other types of cannabis law reform?
Lopez-Cantera: I think that is possible. I think, just a conversation describing the difference between marijuana and hemp, goes a long way in educating not only elected officials, but people in the business community. I had somebody call me to congratulate me and then when I explained to them the difference, they were unaware. They thought the Hemp Industry Association represented medical marijuana. This is an attorney who one would think is following policy on a regular basis. And he didn’t even realize the difference between the two. So I think just a description and the education on the difference between the two will lead to follow up conversations. And I would expect pique the curiosity of policymakers.
Martin: Where do you see hemp headed in Florida, if you could project that out? Where do you see the hemp ag sector growing or changing?
Lopez-Cantera: Once the rules are finalized, there is no doubt there will be change because it was illegal only a few months ago. So that is going to happen, that is a certainty. We expect that the industry will grow, and grow quickly, because of all the potential that this crop has, not only for the current demand but for future demand because of the industrial raw material. Many people think of it as a raw material that could be used to make so many things, thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of things. So, we expect this industry to grow, we expect it to become an opportunity for the agricultural community in Florida, for the citrus industry, which had a lot of problems in the last 20 years. This could be a much needed lifeline as far as a new crop is that is sustainable.
Martin: What are the opportunities and the risks for Florida hemp farmers? And do you expect crop converters?
Lopez-Cantera: So I already mentioned citrus. I can tell you avocados are experiencing something called Laurel Wilt. There’s a beetle that, by burrowing into the bark, transmits the disease to the tree and then it slowly kills it from the inside out. And I’m sure other farmers of other crops have other things, as far as pests. But there’s also market competition with other countries. Mexico obviously being one, South America being big competition for some of the crops that have been historically grown in this state.
I believe that now that the citizenry of the United States will have access to this crop, they’re going to now innovate and create all kinds of opportunity like we’ve done with everything else over the history of this country.
Martin: More elected officials are joining the cannabis and hemp industries after their legislative careers have ended. I’m thinking about Bill Weld, Howard Dean, of course John Boehner. Do you have any friends from the statehouse that might be joining you?
Lopez-Cantera: As far as other colleagues, I haven’t given it much thought. But, more is always better, and more is more. We are in the business to have more people on board.
Martin: Is there a specific aspect of the hemp industry that you find most intriguing?
Lopez-Cantera: I’m not speaking as an investor or an entrepreneur, but I think Florida is uniquely situated as a business-friendly state to really benefit as this industry fleshes out.
Martin: Florida stands a solid shot of legalizing next year. Do you see yourself joining the cannabis/marijuana industry, more broadly?
Lopez-Cantera: I’m proud to be the president of the Hemp Industry Association and I’m just in the first weeks of that. So I’m not going to speculate about what I could do in the future. Right now, I’m happy where I am and I look forward to being a part of this industry.