‘Is Florida Really Committed to Diversity?’: Florida Black Farmers Who Got USDA Settlements Face Huge Obstacle to Get Set-Aside Marijuana Grow License

“Is Florida really committed to diversity in this industry?” Dr. Latresia Wilson asks when thinking of the state’s health department singling out Florida’s Black farmers making it harder for them to participate in the state’s lucrative marijuana industry.

On Oct. 13, the Florida Department of Health issued an emergency rule 64ER21-16 about its Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) license fees. The rule only applies to the one license set aside for Black farmers who participated in the Pigford v. Glickman class-action lawsuit.

In addition to the rigorous application process, applicants from this group must pay more than twice the amount as other farmers paid for an MMTC application fee. The typical MMTC license application fee costs around $60,000, but Black Florida farmers from the Pigford class-action lawsuit must pay $146,000 if they wish to complete the same application.

“Not only does it cost more for the application, but the requirements also that are now placed on the Black farmer. How many Black farmers you know have a few million sitting in the bank?” asked Wilson of the added financial burden placed on Black farmers.

Wilson says the fight for Florida’s Black farmers is reminiscent of the issues at stake in the late 1990s when the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit began, even though the impact goes further back into the 1980s.

In August 1997, Timothy Pigford filed a lawsuit against Dan Glickman, the Secretary of the USDA in 1997, claiming the USDA had been discriminating against Black farmers seeking farm loans or assistance. The suit claimed Black farmers were either denied or forced to wait longer for approval than white farmers, causing financial strain for the Black farmers.

Cecil Brewington also filed a lawsuit against Glickman during the month of August alleging discrimination from the agency.

On Oct. 9, 1998, the court issued a ruling certifying Black farmers part of Pigford and Brewington’s cases suing the USDA for discrimination claims between January 1983 and Feb. 21, 1997, be joined in a class-action suit.

In February 2010, the federal government paid a total of $1.05 billion dollars to 22,721 Black farmers as part of the class-action lawsuit.

Florida’s medical marijuana is a billion-dollar industry. To legally grow and sell marijuana, a license is required. The state has issued 22 licenses, although not all of them are actively producing a product. Florida law requires 15 additional licenses to become available once the state reaches 600,000 qualified medical marijuana patients which is expected in the coming months.

On Oct. 20, Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried publicly called the state’s Health Department emergency rule discriminatory.

A spokesperson for Fried told Atlanta Black Star, the commissioner was unavailable for comment, but in her letter to Florida’s attorney general and inspector general, she called for the emergency rule to be revised. She also said, “Florida’s Black farmers deserve and demand answers, accountability and equal access to the state’s medical marijuana industry.”

Fried is a Democratic candidate in Florida’s gubernatorial race against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. According to her campaign website, she claims to be a longtime advocate of criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization.

Atlanta Black Star sought comment from Florida’s Department of Health regarding its emergency rule and claims of discrimination but did not receive a response at the time of this report.

Wilson is holding out hope the Florida Department of Health’s rule is not set in stone otherwise the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association is willing to take the matter to court.

“I don’t believe this can be higher priced than the other applicants because that would be a setup for another lawsuit,” she said.

According to the USDA, there are 45,508 Black farmers in the U.S., a small fraction when compared to the 3.2 million white farmers that make up 95 percent of producers in the country. Among the estimated 2,000 Black farmers in Florida, Wilson says the average age of the 100 or so Black farmers who are in the Pigford settlement class is 81 years old.

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