A medicinal marijuana license was reserved by the Florida Legislature nearly six years ago for a Black farmer like John Allen to enter the expanding sector. But the Florida Department of Health, which oversees the sector, has yet to issue the license. Despite the 2016 legislative goal, only 22 licenses have been issued, and none of them have yet been given to a Black farmer. The licenses have created tremendous profits from some of the license holders in the following years, infuriating the Black farmers who are unsure of how to catch up.
According to Raymond Warthen, co-founder and president of Orlando-based Zion Infinite Farms, which has applied for a license, “the license should have been released about five, now six years ago, where a lot of the white farmers are now $150 million to $175 million ahead of the game versus the Black farmers who have to start over at zero and are behind the ball again, and the medical marijuana industry. ” It’s regrettable. The $1.2 billion medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) business in Florida, which is expected to reach $2 billion in annual sales by 2025, has seen some leading marijuana growers earn considerable market share.
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The 14 active MMTC license holders run 347 dispensaries, with three companies—Trulieve, Surterra, and Curaleaf—controlling more than two-thirds of the industry, according to a study in MJBiz Daily in June 2021. Nearly 90% of sales are made by the top six medical marijuana treatment facilities. 22 licensed treatment facilities are listed by the Office of Medical Marijuana Use of the health department.
Florida Black farmers like Allen have found it difficult to participate in the medical marijuana sector because of restrictions that they claim are too specific for them to enter, with one of the major requirements being a vertically integrated corporation from seed to sale. Roz McCarthy, director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana in Orlando, was quoted by TheCounter.org, a nonprofit independent news site covering issues from farming to food, as saying that the full-service requirement can be expensive.
She added that the $146,000 application price was only a small portion of the overall expenses. The cost of engaging technical writers, consultants, finding real estate for growing, processing, and dispensing facilities, and paying attorney costs might cost applicants at least $500,000 each.
The health administration has since opened up another window for applications, despite the fact that many have criticized the current procedure for obtaining a treatment center license as being unfair and discriminatory. Only Pigford-Black farmer litigants have access to the March application window.
But the Florida-based Black farmers who took part in the Pigford vs. Glickford (USDA) class action case are either too old and feeble to farm, don’t have enough money to continue farming despite the lawsuit settlement, or passed away before the license could be granted.
As soon as the license is granted, the holder will face up against multi-state juggernauts like Trulieve Cannabis Corp., which has operations in 11 states and a $2.31 billion market cap. One of the 12 people who have applied for a Black farmer license and is the president of FTG Development Inc. in Cape Coral is Allen. He anticipates hearing from the state office in the upcoming weeks.
the case of Pigford v. Glickman/USDA
In America, discrimination against Black farmers is nothing new. “A mule and 40 acres. In order to help former slaves, the American government established the Freedmen’s Bureau as the Civil War came to an end, according to U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman’s 1999 judgement in the illustrious Pigford vs. Glickman/USDA case. According to Friedman, “the government agreed to lend a federal government mule to plough that area” in addition to promising to sell or lease to farmers parcels of unclaimed land and land that the Union had seized during the war.
Some Black people used these programes to purchase or rent farmland. However, during Reconstruction, President Andrew Johnson overrode many of the Freedmen’s Bureau’s regulations and vetoed a bill that would have increased its authority and scope of operations.
According to Friedman, a large portion of the promised land that had been leased to Black farmers was taken away and given back to Confederate supporters. “The promise of 40 acres and a mule was never fulfilled for the majority of African-Americans.” Black farmers persisted despite the government’s failure to fulfil its commitment. They had bought over 16 million acres of agriculture by 1910. In the United States, 925,000 farms were run by Black people in 1920.
There are currently fewer than 50,000 Black farmers in the country. However, for the same time period, Black-owned farms disappeared three times more quickly than white-owned farms, according to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, whose estimates are substantially lower.
The Pigford case would become the largest settlement in American history when it was resolved and a consent decree was issued in 1999. $2.3 billion would be paid to Black farmers “who claimed they were discriminated against by USDA officials as they ‘farmed or attempted to farm’ and applied for farm loans or other USDA benefits,” according to the consent decree.
The lawsuit alleged that from 1983 through 1997, the USDA discriminated against Black farmers and did not look into or address complaints. Lost farm loan applications for the purpose of purchasing seeds or denying Blacks access to loans altogether were two of the accusations.
After his family’s property in Alabama was included in the class-action settlements resulting from the Pigford lawsuit, Allen became a Black farmer litigant through inheritance. “Applications for the Pigford/Black Famers Litigation MMTC licence are now under examination,” the health department’s website stated on June 9.
A stipulation in the original law limiting applications for the Black farmer medical marijuana licence required Allen to control 51% of the FTG farm. In addition to meeting the initial 30-years-in-business criterion specified by the Department of Health in the original legislation reserving a licence for a Black farmer, FTG has been registered with the state of Florida for more than 38 years.
Allen, who was dissatisfied with Florida’s procedure, filed two lawsuits in 2019 against the Department of Health in the hopes that his company, FTG Development Inc., would be given consideration for a licence even though a Black farmer license had yet to be awarded.
In the first instance, the judge decided in favor of the Department of Health, finding that since there was no “open” application window in October 2018, the “Deemer requirement,” which mandates that state agencies react within 90 days or grant the license, did not apply to FTG.
FTG would have liked to submit an application rather than settle a lawsuit to obtain the license, but the state was doing so. The majority of the cases were brought by candidates who did not receive a license in 2015. Allen commented after witnessing the issuance of nine permits as a result of agreements with 2015 applicants: “I told to my people, hey we’re standing in the wrong line.” If they were successful in their initial action but lost, FTG filed a second lawsuit to force the state agency to grant the business a license.
A $146,000 application fee is additionally required of potential marijuana treatment facilities. It was recently increased from its initial starting point of $60,000 Because the money was non-refundable, the price increase received criticism. As of July 1, applicants can roll over their application costs to re-enter the application pool at a later time without losing their fee. Initially, candidates for medical marijuana licences had to meet these conditions as well as a number of others, including a $5 million performance bond, which Allen had already satisfied.
Although Florida’s full-service mandate is still the law, it is not without detractors.
According to a study by the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative think tank located in Tallahassee, only seven organisations had licences by 2017 despite spending $667,000 on lobbyists and nearly $1.5 million on political contributions. According to the institute’s “Cannabis Cronyism” paper from February 2021, critics of the system “called them cartels.”
Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, a Florida Republican, is quoted in that article as saying, “The rules on the books now foster a state-sanctioned cartel structure that limits competition, inhibits access, and leads in higher rates for patients.” However, tighter limits meant less competition and more opportunities for investment, leading to millions in profits for the fortunate few, according to the analysis written by Jedd McFatter, research director for GAI.
The procedure to grant a Black farmer licence, according to Nikki Fried, who was a medical marijuana lobbyist before becoming Florida’s agriculture secretary and is a contender in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, has taken too long.
She declared in October that “the state of Florida’s treatment of Black farmers in the medical marijuana licencing process is totally inappropriate and racist on its face.” “Instead of raising their costs and burdening them with more regulations, we should be levelling the playing field for Black farmers who have experienced discrimination and other structural barriers in the farming industry.”
In a recent press statement, Fried stated that the state should look into “this patently discriminatory law,” but that in the interim, they should waive the application fees and speed up the procedure right away. She also demanded that the Florida Department of Health’s new rule, which raised financial and regulatory barriers for Black farmers and was described as “possibly discriminatory” by design, be the subject of a state probe.
The proposal granting a medical marijuana licence to a Black farmer was supported by Florida Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, who said he wanted answers for the delays and a specific timetable for the announcement of the Pigford licence. Answers from the state agency, in particular, he claimed, about the date when one of those applications was issued. He stated that in order to get those responses, he intends to get in touch with Cassandra Pasley, the Florida Department of Health’s chief of staff.
I anticipate hearing the final analysis of where they stand and what they are doing, as well as discussions about accelerating this procedure, according to Rouson. I was becoming a little impatient with the silence and what seemed like inaction. The licencing timeline is now in phase two of a three-phase process, according to the Department of Health.
Rouson, on the other hand, is dissatisfied with the procedure.
The Florida Legislative Black Caucus vice-chair Rouson claimed that litigation was mostly to blame for the delay. Additionally, Rouson said that application fees have almost tripled since the law went into force. Rouson asked that the fees be carried over into a future application, and Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed and signed the bill. More Black farmers should have permits, according to Rouson.
Black farmers are anticipating news.
Warthen, of Zion Infinite Farms, purchased property close to Groveland in the hopes of becoming eligible for a treatment center license, but so far hasn’t. Warthen claimed that by restricting licenses to Pigford case farmers, who are currently in the 80- to 90-year-old age bracket, the legislation was too narrowly targeted. Both individuals involved in the Pigford case and those who are not are eligible for the Black farmer license, according to him.
That those families who can apply and perhaps receive it must be a part of a case from the 1980s is regrettable and discriminatory, according to Warthen. There should be an exemption made for current Black farmers who are not a part of the Pigford case and have the same opportunities all the other white farmers have had because the majority of those folks won’t be cultivating medical marijuana themselves.
As a Black farmer myself, I am aware that we ought to be given the same chance as earlier organizations, said Warthen. Allen is confident that he will be granted a Black farmer license for medical marijuana even though the licence has not yet been announced. In contrast to other applicants, he stated, “I feel fairly optimistic about our chances.” “They don’t have as many qualifications as we do.”