Legislation would grant new medical marijuana licenses to Black farmers previously denied
Black farmer with digital tablet in crop field. Getty Images.
The Florida Department of Health will soon be accepting applications for up to 22 new applicants to enter the medical cannabis industry, which would ultimately double the number of Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) license holders operating in the state to 44.
Now a state Democrat has proposed legislation that would automatically award nearly half of those licenses to the Black farmers who applied for the one medical marijuana license that was specifically carved out for them by the Florida Legislature in 2017.
St. Petersburg Sen. Darryl Rouson has filed legislation (SB 1356) that would require the Department of Health to award medical marijuana licenses to the so-called “Pigford” applicants (The Pigford v. Glickman settlement addressed racial discrimination in farm lending during the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Minority Cannabis Business Association).
“You know in the first round of licensing, the state got sued, and the way they settled it was to give the seven litigants a license,” Rouson says. “Why can’t we do that with the eight or nine ‘Pigford’ applicants? Just settle it by giving them licenses out of the 22 that are about to be issued, rather than dragging this thing out for years.”
Rouson is referring to the fact that numerous lawsuits were filed by MMTC applicants after they lost out on the first batch of licenses that were issued out by the state after the passage of Florida’s “Charlotte’s Web” compassionate use medical marijuana legislation in 2014.
Under the 2017 law, state health officials were required to issue licenses to applicants that had legal challenges pending as of January 2017, or who had scored within one point of the highest-ranked applicants in five regions of the state during the initial licensing round. The 2017 law also called for “as soon as practicable, the department shall issue one applicant that is a recognized class member of Pigford v. Glickman.”
It took the state Department of Health more than five years to award that license. Last September it was awarded to Terry Donnell Gwinn of Gwinn Brothers Farms, but nearly every one of the other 11 applicants who lost out on that license filed a legal challenge to the Florida Health Department’s decision, the News Service of Florida reported.
Rouson had pushed the state Office of Medical Marijuana for years to move on issuing a Black farmer license, telling this reporter last year that it was “unfair” that they had to wait so long to acquire a license that state law called for in 2017.
“It’s just a darned shame that the black farmers are continuing to be disrespected and unappreciated in the state,” Latresia Wilson, the vice president and co-founder of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists of Florida, told the Phoenix in 2019. “The Black farmers were involved with this because our original goals and objectives were that we would be doing things in minority communities and getting more minorities involved in the industry, but…that is secondary to those getting rich, or richer.”
Applicants for the Black farmer license also had to pay a $146,000 nonrefundable application fee, twice more than the amount required from the initial applicants. Black Americans represent less than 2% of all cannabis company owners, according to Leafly’s 2021 jobs report.
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