The Senate has passed legislation regarding medical marijuana access, but added a significant change — expanding growing licenses for Black farmers.
An amendment to the bill (HB 387) approved by Senators would grant medical marijuana treatment center licenses to Black farmers who had to fight in court for their space in the growing cannabis industry.
Sens. Darryl Rouson and Tracie Davis, both Democrats, crafted the amendment but worked closely with Republican Senate President Kathleen Passidomo on the language.
The amendment cleared the Senate on a voice vote with no dissent. The Senate has now passed the bill on a 38-0 vote.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “The Black farmers were already victimized, and this Legislature in 2017 started to make that situation right.”
Florida voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. The state ultimately set up a vertically integrated licensing program allowing for marijuana to be grown and dispensed by a limited number of producers and vendors working hand-in-hand.
But originally, no licenses went to Black farmers to grow cannabis. The first such license only went out to a Black recipient, Terry Gwynn, last September. He was considered part of a Pigford class, a reference to a 1999 settlement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding discrimination against Black farmers. But other farmers passed over for that single permit have continued to challenge the state over availability of more licenses.
The Senate amendment was carefully negotiated with the Department of Health and other state agencies.
Davis presented the negotiations as a victory of bipartisanship, saying it is important to pass the measure now for those farmers who waited years to be part of the industry.
“This group has been waiting. These people have been waiting for about seven years,” the Jacksonville Democrat said. “Nothing has happened. Now we have the opportunity to make this happen and move forward.”
The language could allow five to 10 MMTC licenses to be issued, in addition to the 22 already in use now.
But the House, notably, has not approved the language. That has generated some frustration in the lower chamber regarding vetting of language.
Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican, carried the bill in the House and couldn’t predict how it will fare on the floor. But he did confirm the House will take up the bill for a vote.
“I don’t want to get out ahead of the Speaker or impede negotiations,” he said.
The bill prior to the amendment was focused on allowing medical marijuana users to renew physician certifications through telehealth, that Roach said would be a benefit to patients. He noted Gov. Ron DeSantis, through an executive order, had allowed telehealth renewals during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that was extended after Hurricane Ian disrupted access to physicians.
Rep. Alex Andrade, a House co-sponsor, said he is fine with the Senate language and believes it will pass in the House.
Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Lake Mary Republican carrying the telehealth bill in the Senate, said he had no problem with it being a vehicle for the Black farmer licenses.
“The Legislature chose to make these licenses available six years ago and due to litigation, these Black farmers haven’t had a chance to do that,” he said. “In the meantime, folks who are to be competitors have been able to grow and produce and cultivate and sell. They’ve been losing time and this would help them get what was rightfully offered.”