Doors Opening for More Black Marijuana Growers

A referendum may appear on the November ballot asking Florida voters if marijuana should be legal for recreational use. (Envato Elements/Miami Times edit)

State lawmakers for the second year in a row have signed off on expanding the number of medical marijuana licenses earmarked for Black farmers, opening the door for three applicants who lost out earlier.

Expansion of medical marijuana licenses for Black farmers was included in a wide-ranging Department of Health bill (SB 1582) that also addresses such issues as septic tank inspections and screening for newborns and pregnant women.

A provision added to the bill in the last week of this year’s legislative session would help at least three Black farmers who had sought medical marijuana licenses but were deemed ineligible to apply by state officials.

Passage of the bill is the latest twist in a drawn-out effort to allow Black farmers to join the state’s cannabis program, which has exploded in size since voters approved a constitutional amendment broadly authorizing medical marijuana in 2016.

If signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the bill would bring to six the total number of potentially lucrative medical marijuana licenses earmarked for Black farmers with ties to decades-old litigation about discriminatory lending practices by federal officials.

The measure also would prohibit health officials from using the death of an applicant “who was alive as of February 1, 2024” but who died before the cure process or legal challenges were completed as a reason to deny a license.

That could benefit the heirs and partners of Leola Robinson, a 101-year-old Escambia County farmer who got her start in agriculture in the cotton fields, and Henry Crusaw, a Suwannee County nonagenarian whose business registration also was in doubt.

If signed into law, the 90-day cure period could possibly open the door to other applicants who lost out in 2022, according to Sen. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat who helped shepherd this year’s effort to expand the number of licenses.

A referendum may appear on the November ballot asking Florida voters if marijuana should be legal for recreational use. (Envato Elements/Miami Times edit)

Attempts to give Black farmers entry into Florida’s multibillion-dollar cannabis industry have been riddled with problems since the inception of the state’s medical marijuana program in 2014, when lawmakers authorized non-euphoric cannabis in anticipation of the passage of the broader constitutional amendment.

Black farmers complained that they were shut out of applying for the state’s original 2017 medical marijuana licenses because none of them met the eligibility criteria, which required applicants to have operated as Florida nurseries for 30 years.

When the application process for Black farmers’ licenses was announced in 2021, potential applicants were hit by sticker shock because of a nonrefundable fee of $146,000 – more than double what prospective operators paid in the past.

The cannabis industry is poised to nearly double in size as state health officials sift through applications for 22 additional licenses required under the 2017 law, which set up a schedule for new licenses to come online as the number of patients increases.

Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court is weighing a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults ages 21 and older. The court has until April 1 to decide whether the initiative qualifies for the November ballot.

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