Florida could add more medical marijuana licenses for Black farmers

Florida could add more medical marijuana licenses for Black farmers

Florida lawmakers approved expansion of medical marijuana licenses for Black farmers for a second legislative session in a row.

The provision was tacked onto a broader health bill in the last week of the session and earmarks “at least three” additional licenses for Black farmers who were previously denied licenses, the Florida News Service reported.

The effort ties back to the so-called “Pigford” litigation, which addressed racial discrimination against Black farmers by the USDA, such as discriminatory lending.

The bill introduces a 90-day period to fix any application problems and includes provisions to ensure that the heirs of deceased applicants, like Ocala-based Moton Hopkins, can inherit the license. Hopkins had a high-scoring application but passed away before it was fully processed.

The measure also removes a provision requiring five years of business registration in the state, an obstacle for some elderly Black farmers.

The changes come a year after the Florida legislature passed a telehealth bill that opened up 11 new licensing slots specifically for Black farmers to start businesses in the sector.

All of it is an extension of a 2017 law that laid the groundwork for Florida’s medical marijuana program and only required one license to be issued to a Black farmer from the Pigford group. That license ended up not being awarded in the initial rounds.

The first license for a Black recipient, Terry Gwynn, wasn’t issued until September 2022.

Last year’s new licenses for Black farmers did not reduce the licenses issued through the state’s 2023 application process, which saw 22 new licenses granted after a competitive and costly application procedure and doubled the number of licensees at the time, GMR reported.

Since then, industry insiders and market analysts have kept an eye on how the integration of the new licenses would affect market dynamics and valuations, particularly given the high entry costs and competitive nature of the industry.

Licenses in the secondary market have traded for tens of millions of dollars. For example, Cookies bought a license from Tree King-Tree Farm Inc. for $80 million in 2020, while another company, Green Dragon, paid about the same amount to get into the business.

Non-Pigford applicants who participated in last year’s round paid a nonrefundable $146,000 application fee, based on the understanding that only 22 new licenses would be introduced, according to sources at the time.

Regulators in 2022 also raised the license renewal fee from $60,000 to more than $1 million, a huge hike that made Florida one of the most costly markets to remain in. The renewal fee was based on a formula that includes the amount of money it costs to regulate the industry, the state said.

While the process is meant to address the systemic racial injustices that the Pigford case brought to light, concerns remain about it’s implementation – with some applicants saying it’s created new barriers to entry.

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