Hemp research pilot program in the works

Photo of hemp leaf.
Photo courtesy of Ganesh R on flickr.com.

Florida A&M University College of Agriculture and Food Science could potentially receive internship and scholarship opportunities for research on hemp.

FAMU’s interim Vice President for Research Charles A. Weatherford has been spearheading the university’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program. This program would be in partnership with qualified and vetted companies, and the research would be conducted in the northern, central and southern regions of Florida to see variations in the plant’s growth between the different climates.

“We have a farm in Quincy and 3,000 acres in Brooksville, and the partners might use their own property hopefully in South Florida. The companies will be doing the research in consultation with our College of Agriculture and Food Science,” said Weatherford.

FAMU and University of Florida are both land-grant universities, and both have the ability to have this kind of program.

A major focus of the research is not only to observe the variation of growth between the separate climates, but also to see how the plant affects Florida’s native plant life.

“If we started growing it in large quantities in Florida, would it endanger other Florida agricultural products like citrus? Florida has a history of invasive animal and plant species that have messed up our agriculture, citrus especially,” Weatherford said.

Pythons, catfish and various bacteria have all damaged wildlife in the Sunshine State.

Industrial hemp production is also considered a lucrative business by many. According to the Federation of American Scientists, hemp-based product sales were at about $688 million in 2016. Hemp products include, but are not limited to, clothes, yarn, rope and Cannabidiol (CBD).

“Hemp has a lot of useful properties and is already used all over the world, we’re kind of behind and trying to play catch up. Potentially this could make us a lot of money, it depends on how successful the products that are made from hemp are,” said Weatherford.

CBD has been found to have many health benefits. According to the Journal of Experimental Medicine, CBD was found to reduce chronic inflammation and pain in some mice and rats.The FDA has also approved the use of CBD for treating epilepsy, and the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology claims it can also suppress the growth of cancer cells.

The next steps to get the pilot program up and running are to select which companies the university will be going into negotiation with. After all seven of the interested companies are interviewed and conduct a seminar at FAMU, the selections will be made and presented to the Board of Trustees for approval by the goal end date of February or early March.

While vetting these companies, Weatherford is looking into whether they are minority, female, or veteran owned, their track record for working with underserved communities, and if they have the financial ability to support this research.

“We expect zero cost, if we are paying anything we have made a mistake. This about what FAMU can benefit, we’re looking for a win-win-win situation for the university, the companies, and the state,” Weatherford said.