Florida’s Black farmers may get a 2nd chance at pot licenses

HB 387 would instruct the health department to grant licenses to Black farmers, regardless of the evaluation ratings they earned during last year’s application process.

Black farmers in Florida who missed out last year could get a second chance at receiving their medical-marijuana licenses.

News Service Florida reported that lawmakers enacted HB 387 in the final days of the 2023 legislative session, resulting from years of work to provide Black farmers access to Florida’s medical marijuana sector.

The legislation would become effective on July 1 if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it or permits it to become law without his signature. The law would trigger a 90-day window for applicants to address application shortcomings.

Legislators initially tried to incorporate Black farmers into the sector as part of a larger statute implementing a 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

A provision of a law passed in 2017 obliged state health officials to issue a license to a candidate involved in the decades-old legal “Pigford” lawsuits, which addressed the racial discrimination that federal agriculture officials perpetuated against Black farmers.

Florida medical marijuana industry
Black farmers in Florida who couldn’t obtain their medical marijuana license last year could be getting a second chance after legislators approved a bill during the final day of the 2023 legislative session. (Photo Credit: Adobe Stock)

The Florida Department of Health introduced a procedure in October 2021 for Black farmers to apply for the license. They needed to demonstrate they had been operating in Florida for at least five years to qualify.

In September, the state office said it intended to provide a license to Suwannee County farmer Terry Gwinn after receiving 12 applications, which it hired a private contractor to assess. However, because of procedural and legal difficulties, Gwinn’s license has yet to be finalized.

HB 387 might lead to new issues, but Gwinn’s attorney said it would open the door for Gwinn to establish himself in the medical marijuana market.

The bill “will prevent any further delay and allow Mr. Gwinn to immediately move forward with licensed activities,” attorney Jim McKee said via text message, according to the News Service. “The bill also provides a potential pathway to licensure for other applicants.”

HB 387 would instruct the health department to grant licenses to Black farmers, regardless of the evaluation ratings they earned. It would also mandate the agency to grant licenses to candidates whose applications complied with all requirements that an administrative judge issued.

Although the state received 12 applications for the Black farmer license, it is unclear how many more may result from the new law.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Black Democrat from St. Petersburg, sponsored the Black farmer amendment. He and Black farmers have stated that as time goes on, it becomes more difficult for them to compete against established medical marijuana enterprises, most of which continue to grow.

“It’s shameful,” Rouson told the News Service, “that it [the Black farmer license] was not issued six years ago when it was directed to be issued.”

​​Rouson noted Black farmers in Florida encountered discrimination from local, state and federal agriculture administrators and “from societal and business norms that their counterparts did not have to deal with.” He added that marijuana’s unlawful use has disproportionately impacted communities of color.

Last week, lawmakers included the Black farmer license issue in a bill that would permit doctors to use telehealth to recertify the eligibility for cannabis of medicinal-marijuana patients.

The campaign for the Black farmer licenses comes as the state’s medical marijuana businesses, currently at 22, are expected to double.

“This community should be allowed to share in the beneficial use of marijuana and engage in this industry,” Rouson said, the News Service reported. “I’m interested in standing with the governor for the signing of this significant and historic legislation.”

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