Black farmers vie for marijuana license

By Dara Kam
News Service of Florida

 A 99-year-old matriarch who began her agricultural career in cotton fields in Northwest Florida. A rancher who served in Vietnam and grew up in an Alachua County community terrorized in the past by lynchings. A family that got its start picking apples on a New York farm.

They’re among people vying for a potentially lucrative medical-marijuana license earmarked for a Black farmer who participated in decades-old litigation over discrimination in lending practices by the federal government.

The Florida Department of Health has received a dozen applications for the license.

While details on many of the applications are heavily redacted, the information made available to the public reveals Black farmers and deep-pocketed financial backers attempting to establish a foothold in Florida’s medical-marijuana industry, where licenses regularly fetch upwards of $50 million.

Florida voters in 2016 passed a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. That led to a 2017 law establishing guidelines for the industry, including earmarking a license for a Black farmer because none of the African-American farmers in Florida could meet eligibility requirements for an earlier round of state licenses.

The law requires health officials to grant a license to “one applicant that is a recognized class member” in class-action lawsuits known as the “Pigford” cases. Eligible applicants also have to show that they’ve been doing business in Florida for at least five years.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration last fall rolled out the application process for the Black farmer license and began accepting applications in March. State health officials are in the process of evaluating the applications.

Correspondence between the state and applicants, posted this week on the Department of Health’s website along with the applications, provided a glimpse into what appeared to be widespread confusion over eligibility for the license.