Almost six years ago, the Florida legislature set aside a certain number of medicinal marijuana licenses specifically for Black farmers like John Allen.
The required license has not yet been issued by the Florida Department of Health, which is responsible for licensing in this field.
Only 22 licenses have been awarded, and not a single one to a Black farmer, despite the 2016 legislative objective. Years later, some licensees have generated enormous riches from their concessions, leaving Black farmers to ask how they might get back on top.
Zion Infinite Farms, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, has applied for a license and its co-founder and president, Raymond Warthen, claims that “the license should have been released going on five, now six years ago,” meaning that many white farmers are now $150 million to $175 million ahead of the game compared to the Black farmers who must start over at zero and are behind the ball again and in the medical marijuana industry. That’s a terrible turn of events.
Meanwhile, a handful of major cultivators have built up large stakes in Florida’s expanding medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) market, which earns $1.2 billion annually and is expected to surpass $2 billion by 2025.
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In the medicinal marijuana industry, the top six shops account for roughly 90% of sales. There are 22 dispensaries that have been given the green light by the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.
Florida’s Strict regulations, such as the mandate that enterprises be vertically integrated from seed to sale, have made it difficult for black growers like Allen to enter the medicinal marijuana sector.
TheCounter.org, a non-profit independent news site covering issues from farming to food, cited Roz McCarthy, director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana in Orlando, as noting that the full-service requirement can be a financial impediment.
The application price of $146,000, she added, was a relatively small portion of the entire cost. A minimum of $500,000 may be required for applicants to cover “legal fees, employing technical writers and consultants, and sourcing real estate for growing, processing, and dispensing locations.”
The health department has opened a new application period for treatment facility licenses despite widespread criticism of the previous process. The March deadline was open only to those involved in Pigford-Black farmer litigation.
Many of the African-American farmers in Florida who brought the Pigford vs. Glickford (USDA) class action lawsuit are either too old or too sick to keep farming now that they’ve won the settlement or are no longer alive to do so.
According to Yahoo Finance, national chains like Trulieve Cannabis Corp., which is already operating in 11 states and has a market worth of $2.31 billion, would pose significant competition for the licensee once it was issued.
Cape Coral’s Allen, president of FTG Development Inc., is waiting to hear back from the state agency that issued him an application for a Black farmer license.
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There has always been prejudice against Black farmers in the United States.
“40,000 square feet and a mule. Freedmen’s Bureau was established by the United States government to aid freed slaves while the Civil War was winding down. “In his 1999 judgment for the seminal Pigford v. Glickman/USDA case, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said.
When the war ended, the government “promised to sell or lease to farmers sections of unoccupied property and land that had been stolen by the Union during the war,” as well as “the loan of a federal government mule to plough that land,” as Friedman put it.
To take advantage of these openings, several African Americans rented or bought acreage. However, President Andrew Johnson overturned many of the Freedmen’s Bureau’s policies and vetoed a bill expanding the Bureau’s authority and activities during Reconstruction.
According to Friedman, much of the land that was supposed to be leased to Black farmers but was instead given to Confederate supporters was confiscated. Most African Americans were never given the promised 40 acres and mule.
Despite the government’s broken promise, African-American farmers persisted. About 16 million acres of cropland were under their control by 1910. In the United States, 925,000 farms were owned and run by people of African descent by 1920.
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There are now fewer than 50,000 Black farmers left in the United States. During the same time period, farms owned by Black people declined three times quicker than farms owned by white people, while the Federation of Southern Cooperatives reports far lower numbers.
Black farmers “who claimed that they were discriminated against by USDA employees when they ‘farmed or sought to farm’ and applied for farm loans or other USDA incentives” were awarded $2.3 billion in a consent decree released in 1999, making the Pigford case the largest settlement in U.S. history.
It was alleged in the lawsuit that between 1983 and 1997, the USDA engaged in discriminatory practices toward Black farmers and did not conduct any investigations or respond to complaints. Lost farm loan applications to acquire seeds or restrictions on Blacks’ access to loans were among the issues that sparked protests.
After his family’s Alabama property was included in the class-action settlements for the Pigford litigation, Allen became a plaintiff and a Black farmer by inheritance.
A statement from the Department of Health’s website on June 9 read, “Applications for the Pigford/Black Famers Litigation MMTC license are now being reviewed.”
According to the original legislation that barred Black farmers from applying for medicinal marijuana licenses, Allen must be a 51% owner of the FTG farm. In addition to being in business for more than 30 years, as stipulated by the Department of Health in the original legislation reserving a license for a Black farmer, FTG has been registered with the state of Florida for more than 38 years.
Intricacies of the Law
Allen, frustrated by Florida’s lack of progress toward granting a license to a Black farmer, filed two lawsuits against the state’s Department of Health in 2019. Both cases are still pending.
A judge sided with the Department of Health in the first lawsuit by ruling that because October 2018 was not an “open” application window, the “Deemer requirement,” which mandates a response from state agencies within 90 days of license issuance, did not apply to FTG.
It was FTG’s preference to apply for the license proactively rather than litigate for it, but the state was only granting permission after settling lawsuits. The majority of petitioners were 2015 grantees who were denied funding.
After nine licenses were awarded due to agreements with 2015 applicants, Allen stated, “I remarked to my guys, well, we’re standing in the wrong line.”
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Following the failure of their first lawsuit, FTG filed a second one in an attempt to compel the state government to grant the corporation a license.
There May Be Additional Prerequisites
A $146,000 application fee is also required from any facilities interested in becoming medical marijuana treatment centers. This cost used to be $60,000 but was just increased.
There was criticism of the price increase because the payment was non-refundable. Since July 1, applicants can save their application fees and use them at a later date.
Allen has already fulfilled these and the other requirements for applying for a medical marijuana license, such as a performance bond in the amount of $5 million.
In Florida, the full-service mandate has stayed on the books, but that hasn’t stopped it from getting some flak.
According to a 2017 analysis by the Government Accountability Institute in Tallahassee, a conservative think tank, just seven organizations that had spent $667,000 on campaign contributions and nearly $1.5 million on lobbyists had licenses by that year.
The institute said in its “Cannabis Cronyism” report from February 2021 that “critics of the system labeled them cartels.”
According to the article, St. Petersburg, Florida, Republican Senator Jeff Brandes said, “The rules on the books now foster a state-sanctioned cartel structure that limits competition, inhibits access, and results in higher prices for patients.”
According to GAI’s research director Jedd McFatter’s report, “yet, more limits meant less competition and more opportunities for investment and millions in profits for the lucky few.”