Black farmers’ opportunity to get into medical marijuana growing opens in March

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Higher fees for this round of applicants fires up Agriculture Commissioner's concern.

The state will begin accepting applications for one Black farmer to receive a medical marijuana growing license starting next March, according to an emergency rule issued Wednesday.

The opening is targeted to a protected class of farmers to address historic discrimination.

The announcement of the dates, however, fired up Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried again about the discriminatorily higher fees that this round of applicants will have to pay to be considered for the lucrative license.

“The way that the state of Florida has handled the medical marijuana licensure process for Black farmers is completely unacceptable and discriminatory on its face,” Fried is quoted as saying in a news release her office issued Friday. “We should be leveling the playing field for Black farmers who have faced discrimination and other structural obstacles in the farming industry, not doubling their fees and creating additional regulatory burdens for them.”

She reiterated her October call for an investigation into why new financial and regulatory burdens were put into place for these applicants. To be considered, applicants must pay a $146,000 application fee — increased from the $60,000 fee initial applicants paid, Fried said.

The state Health Department did not return an email seeking a response to Fried’s call for an investigation Friday.

The emergency rule limits applicants to the Pigford Class of Black farmers. They were designated as such in the Pigford v. Glickman suit. The suit found in 2010 that a group of Black farmers had been discriminated against in their applications for U.S. Department of Agriculture loans and other farm benefits.

Florida has now issued 22 grow licenses, but not one has gone to any Black farmers, which Fried has called “a travesty.”

Fried is also running to replace Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Governor’s chair. She has been a frequent critic of some of the administration policies.

“The state needs to heed my calls for an investigation into this blatantly discriminatory rule — but in the meantime, they should waive the application fees and accelerate the process immediately,” Fried said.

Applications will be accepted from March 21 to March 25. But Sen. Darryl Rouson, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he believes not many will be able to apply — since the six-figure application fee is nonrefundable.

“I’m extremely concerned that it (the application fee) will be a barrier,” Rouson said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]



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