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Florida’s new Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nicole “Nikki” Fried recently announced the appointment of Florida’s first Director of Cannabis, banking veteran Holly Bell. Bell’s selection comes after a national search and interviews with multiple finalists for the position.

Nikki Fried

Medical marijuana is legal in Florida and there are many in the produce industry eyeing production of that and non-intoxicating hemp as alternative or primary crops.

In her role as Director of Cannabis, Bell will oversee the development of rules, work directly with scientific experts, and ensure Commissioner Fried’s vision for cannabis in Florida continues moving forward. Bell will work closely with the Department’s Division of Plant Industry on developing Florida’s hemp industry, including the production, processing, inspecting, and manufacturing of industrial hemp, and will assist in implementing the new Farm Bill as it relates to industrial hemp.

She will also monitor the actions of the Florida Department of Health as it relates to medical marijuana, and will work with the Division of Food Safety on implementing the forthcoming edibles rules. Bell will also work closely with the Commissioner’s industrial hemp and medical marijuana advisory committees, members of which will be appointed in the coming weeks. 

“More than two years ago, Floridians overwhelmingly voted for medical marijuana. While previous administrations obstructed access and denied the will of the people, today is a brand new day for Florida,” said Fried “Cannabis is an incredible opportunity for our state, which is why I’ve appointed a Cannabis Director to oversee this top priority going forward. Holly was instrumental in helping start up Tennessee’s industrial hemp program, where she heard from farmers who needed an alternative for the future. She brought people together to make that vision a reality, and she’ll do the same here in Florida. Holly’s experience in finance and knowledge of managing programs make her a bold choice – and the right choice – to help build the future of cannabis in Florida.”

Holly Bell

“I’m grateful to Commissioner Fried for the opportunity to help literally grow Florida’s future,” said Bell. “After eighty years of stalled progress, we can finally begin putting cannabis to work, and realize its full potential for farmers, consumers, and patients here in Florida. That’s exactly what I did in Tennessee – bringing together farmers, investors, and government to help build an infrastructure to prepare for that state’s hemp bill and cannabis industry, and drive their economy.”

Florida’s medical marijuana industry is projected to have a $1.6 billion economic impact and create more jobs than manufacturing in Florida by 2020. Studies have shown that Florida has the potential to become the biggest medical marijuana market in the nation by 2021. The passage of the Farm Bill brings the opportunity to grow industrial hemp, which has billions in potential economic opportunity for the Florida agriculture community as an alternative crop of the future. Research also shows that medical marijuana laws can lead to a 25% lower annual mean opioid overdose mortality rate.

Here’s a sampling of reactions to Bell’s appointment:

Joe Kirkpatrick, President, Tennessee Hemp Industries Association: “Tennessee farmers were suffering and looking for an alternative and we thought hemp could be an incredible opportunity to revitalize the agriculture industry, and be an overall economic boon to our state. Holly was pivotal to helping us build, organize, and implement our vision to make hemp a reality in Tennessee — her expertise in the financial aspects of cannabis, years of project management experience, and national ties to industry investors really made the difference.”

Attorney John Morgan, Founder Morgan & Morgan and Cannabis Advocate, via Twitter: “Appointment of Florida’s first Director of Cannabis @bell_hollybell3 is a big deal for patient access & expanding the #hemp industry.”

Michelle Weiner DO MPH, Pain Management Physician, Spine and Wellness Centers of America: “Commissioner Fried made the right choice with Holly Bell for Cannabis Director. Bell understands that cannabis is life-changing medicine for patients and that doctors must have the ability to recommend treatment in a manner that fits their needs. I’m thrilled to begin working together to ensure Florida is a leader in medical marijuana and our system increases patient access and cost-effectiveness, and respects the importance of the doctor-patient relationship.”

Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana, via Twitter: “Commissioner @NikkiFried’s choice of Holly Bell as Cannabis Director was bold! Holly helped make Tennessee’s #cannabis vision a reality she brought stakeholders together 2 build infrastructure ready for hemp FLORIDA has talent. We are ready to see activation.”

News Service of Florida: Florida’s 1st ‘director of cannabis’ named

“Fried, a Democrat elected in November who made increasing access to medical marijuana one of the cornerstones of her campaign, tapped Holly Bell, a former banker, to serve as director of cannabis…Fried said Bell will work with farmers and scientists to help develop Florida’s nascent hemp industry following the passage of a federal farm bill that broadly legalized hemp, a cannabis plant that does not contain euphoria-inducing THC. Also, Bell will monitor other state agencies’ activities regarding medical marijuana.”

Eric Stevens, Director of Florida For Care: “Holly is uniquely qualified to help Florida build a united vision for hemp and move forward with the crop of the future which will be a large focus of this department. Holly’s 25-year career in banking and financial services allowed her to understand the business challenges faced by the cannabis and hemp industries.”

Jeffrey Sharkey, Managing Partner, Capitol Alliance Group: “Great Leadership on making sure Floridians have access to safe and affordable Cannabis. We support your appointment and look forward to working with Ms Bell and your team.”

The Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida: “We commend Commissioner Fried on her appointment!”

David Kotler, Cannabis Attorney: “As a former government employee and attorney working nationally in the cannabis industry, I have  an understanding of the long-term view necessary to get the industry up and running. Holly’s work history, multi-state experience, financial background, and relationships with industry stakeholders from markets that have been through the process before, make her a great choice to work with our experts and advocates here in Florida to craft a meaningful and efficient direction for Florida’s Cannabis Program.”

Michael Bronstein, President, American Trade Association for Cannabis & Hemp: “We are proud of the steps that Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has taken to ensure that compassionate, patient-focused medical marijuana policies will help Floridians in need. We congratulate Cannabis Director Holly Bell on today’s appointment and value the leadership and expertise that Director Bell will bring to Florida’s medical marijuana and hemp program.”

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