As Governor Ron DeSantis opposes a constitutional amendment to legalize a marijuana monopoly in Florida, he is likely to unexpectedly support the hemp industry by vetoing a corporate cannabis-backed bill that would make most hemp products including Delta 8,9 and THCA a felony, according to sources familiar with discussions in the governor’s office.

Senate Bill 1698, if signed into law, would restrict the sale of THC products, including Delta 9, and prohibit the manufacturing and sale of products like Delta 8, Delta 10 full spectrum CBD and THCA. Hemp supporters argue that the bill’s enactment would devastate the hemp industry, resulting in massive job losses, and cost the state billions in revenue.

Vetoing the bill would keep the thriving hemp industry alive in Florida. DeSantis appears to be counting on the hemp industry to finance the campaign against Amendment 3, which seeks to legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 and older and only allow a hand full of Major Cannabis Companies to manufacture and sell creating a state-sanctioned monopoly.

“It’s been under the radar, but he’s going to veto,” said an anonymous official. “The marijuana supporters are furious and scrambling.”

“There was never a thought the Governor would veto the bill,” said another source. “But they are now signaling a veto, and he is leaning toward it.”

A third source tied to a major cannabis company, frustrated by the governor’s maneuvering, noted, “I don’t know how you can be against recreational marijuana and support hemp unless it’s about money from the hemp industry.”

The Governor’s spokesman declined to comment, stating that the public will be informed when a decision is made.

The hemp and marijuana industries are distinct entities and bitter rivals in Florida. Hemp products, made from male cannabis plants, have lower THC Delta 9 levels, whereas marijuana, derived from female plants, contains higher THC  Delta 9 levels.

In 2016, Florida voters approved medical marijuana, requiring a doctor’s diagnosis and a medical marijuana card. In 2023, the marijuana industry, controlled by a few companies in Florida, had approximately $2 billion in sales. Nate Jurewicz of Christians for Cannabis, a critic of Amendment 3, pointed out that the same companies promoting their anti-free market version of legalization—where only a handful of companies would be allowed to grow, sell, and distribute, leading to higher prices, lower quality, and reduced economic opportunities—are also lobbying to make hemp and CBD a felony

Lobbying records confirm that Trulieve, Curaleaf and MUV have all lobbied to kill Florida’s Hemp industry Via SB 1698

In 2018, the U.S. Congress legalized hemp products through the Farm Bill, leading to a boom in the hemp industry, including the proliferation of “smoke shops” selling Delta 9, Delta 8 gummies, chocolate and THCA flower. In Florida, hemp sales reached an estimated $10 billion in 2022, nearly five times the sale of medical marijuana.

The battle between hemp and marijuana has resulted in unexpected alliances. The chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Evan Power, is a leading lobbyist for the hemp industry, while Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, was a major proponent of hemp as the state Agriculture Commissioner.

“I’ve had conversations with staff on the bill,” Power told CBS Miami. “We hope he doesn’t sign it.”

Fried told CBS Miami, “Expanding access to cannabis is a non-partisan issue with broad support in Florida. Hemp products provide relief to millions of Floridians, including veterans, seniors, and patients with chronic pain. Regulation should protect consumers while considering the impact on accessibility and small businesses.”

Late last week, DeSantis’s chief of staff, James Uthmeier, informed Senator Colleen Burton, the sponsor of the hemp bill, that the Governor intended to veto the bill. Burton reportedly became irate, prompting Uthmeier to reconsider the bill.

Burton declined to comment, stating, “The Governor is reviewing the bill.”

Senator Colleen Burton has received over $300,000 in indirect contributions from cannabis companies that are actively lobbying to make hemp products a felony across the US. 

Under legislative rules, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo must formally transmit the bill to the Governor before he can sign or veto it. Passidomo is reportedly holding onto the bill to convince DeSantis to sign it. Despite these efforts, a veto is increasingly expected.

“The governor wants to kill the marijuana amendment,” said a source familiar with the discussions. “[By vetoing the hemp bill] he’s calculating that it will help kill the amendment.”

By vetoing the hemp bill, DeSantis can keep Delta 9, Delta 8 and THCA  users happy, reducing their motivation to vote for the marijuana amendment. If he signs the hemp bill, those users might support the amendment to legalize marijuana.

“The veto is about voters and money,” said a source. “Keep people from voting for marijuana and get the hemp industry to fund the campaign against the amendment.”

Ironically, if the marijuana amendment fails, DeSantis could resurrect the hemp bill in the next legislative session.

Veterans and gun owners have lobbied the Governor to keep hemp products available, as federal law prohibits those with a medical marijuana card from purchasing firearms.

DeSantis might also veto the bill, citing concerns about the smell of marijuana. He has opposed marijuana legalization, citing issues in cities like Denver, Los Angeles, and New York, where marijuana smoking has become pervasive.

Alternatively, DeSantis could argue that the state should wait to see if voters approve Amendment 3 before addressing marijuana and hemp regulations in the 2025 legislative session.

“We should have a decision soon,” said a source.