Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association of Florida, Medical Marijuana

Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association of Florida, Medical Marijuana

The battle to receive a Florida license to grow and sell medical marijuana has been fierce since the onset of the process triggered by voters’ approval in the election last November. There were concerns that Florida lawmakers would only allow seven cultivators in the beginning and create an unfair marketplace. There are now concerns that licenses are not being allotted fairly. Black farmers and other minorities are concerned they have been cutout of the process.

Solutions are being found though, there are now 12 cultivators and more to come once the state has 100,000 registered patients. A new application process has been created that is intended to give black farmers an advantage in gaining one of the new licenses and there is another inclusion to give an advantage to citrus growers. However, nothing is perfect. There are flaws in the process and a farmer out of Panama City has pointed out one through a lawsuit concerning the selection of black farmers. Do you believe everyone should have a fair shot at the medical marijuana industry in Florida?

An African American farmer out of Panama City is suing the state to block the issuance of a medical marijuana license set aside for minorities on the grounds that a new law cut him out of the deal.

Columbus Smith, 80, says he can’t bid on the Florida Department of Health’s cultivation license reserved for members of the Florida chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association because the private association won’t allow new members to join. He says the association stopped accepting new members before the state even passed a new medical cannabis law in June implementing an expanded system.

“There is no rational basis for limiting the opportunity of Black Farmers to obtain a medical marijuana license to only the few members of that class of Black Farmers who are also members of a specific private association,” Smith, represented by attorneys Sam Ard, Wilbur Brewton and Kelly Plante, states in his complaint.

Howard Gunn Jr., president of the farmers association, said he was not aware of the lawsuit and declined to discuss Smith’s assertions.

The state’s medical marijuana licenses grant farmers the valuable ability to cultivate and distribute marijuana to be processed into medicine. A new law passed in June required the state to issue 10 new licenses on top of the seven that, at the time, already existed. Recently, a license-holder out of Alachua sold the management rights to its business for $40 million.

The first licenses were issued in a method that effectively cut out black farmers. To address the problem lawmakers made sure to set aside one of their new licenses for farmers who participated in the Pigford v. Glickman case, a late 1990s class-action lawsuit that was settled between the USDA and black farmers who said they’d been discriminated against by the federal government.

Eligible bidders also had to be members of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. But the association, according to Smith, has at most five members, and refuses to make its membership list public. Smith, whose lawsuit was first reported by Vegetable and Specialty Crop News, is asking the courts to overturn the portion of state law that requires a license to go to a member of the association, and in the meantime stop the state from issuing that license.

The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

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