Black farmers could get pot licenses

by | Jun 21, 2024

A new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis could grant medical-marijuana licenses to at least three additional Black farmers, who were previously deemed ineligible, as part of efforts to expand licenses within the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry.

At least three additional Black farmers could be in line for medical-marijuana licenses as part of a wide-ranging Department of Health bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed this week. The bill (SB 1582) would help at least three Black farmers who sought licenses but were deemed ineligible to apply by state officials.

Lawmakers passed the bill in March, the second year in a row they have signed off on efforts to expand the number of licenses for Black farmers. The cannabis industry has mushroomed since voters approved a 2016 constitutional amendment broadly authorizing medical marijuana. A law passed in 2017 that provided an overall framework for the industry required health officials to issue a license to a Black farmer with ties to decades-old litigation about discriminatory lending practices by federal officials, known as the “Pigford” cases.

The law also required prospective licensees to show they had conducted business in Florida for at least five consecutive years before applying. State health officials began accepting applications for the Black farmer license in March 2022 and six months later announced they intended to award the license to Suwannee County-based farmer Terry Donnell Gwinn.

All of the 11 other applicants who lost out challenged the decision, including Moton Hopkins. Hopkins was the top-scoring applicant, but the 84-year-old Ocala-area grower died before the state’s decision about the license was finalized.

Part of this year’s bill, however, appears to clear the path for Hopkins’ heirs and partners, who have launched numerous legal and administrative challenges in their quest for a license. Legal wrangling over the denial of Hopkins’ application delayed the issuance of Gwinn’s license.

Lawmakers sped up the process last year by passing a measure requiring health officials to issue licenses to Black farmers whose applications did not have any identified deficiencies. The 2023 law resulted in licenses for Gwinn and two additional applicants and brought the overall number of licensed medical-marijuana operators in the state to 25, but left Hopkins out of the mix.

This year’s effort, however, sets up a 90-day “cure” period for rejected applications that meet certain criteria, including if “the applicant died after March 25, 2022,” which was the last day to apply for the licenses.

The law, which will take effect July 1, could lead to a total of six Black farmers who were part of the Pigford litigation having licenses.


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