“This bill represents the best side of the legislative process—working together across the aisle to solve a problem.”
By Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed legislation that may finally allow Black farmers to get involved in the medical marijuana industry, despite years of disrespect and frustration in the Black farmers community.
The bill (HB 387) was originally crafted to allow physicians to use telehealth methods to renew medical marijuana certifications for qualified patients.
But in the last week of the legislative session, the measure was amended and language was added from Sens. Darryl Rouson (R) and Tracie Davis (D) to address the lingering issues surrounding the issuance of Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) licenses to Black farmers who had been litigants in the federal Pigford v. Glickman class action lawsuit, according to a press release from the two senators.
The new state law, which stemmed from a constitutional measure on medical marijuana in 2016, addresses the issue by granting licenses to all Black farmer applicants who either received a notice from the state Department of Health of its intent to deny or approve the application and the application has no deficiencies; received a final determination from Department of Health in an administrative challenge that applicant met all requirements for licensure, even if the applicant died during the challenge process; or had deficiencies in the application but cure such deficiencies, according the legislative language.
“It’s time,” Rouson told the Phoenix Monday night. “The voters passed this in 2016. It called for the awarding (of a license to a Pigford farmer). I think they gave out seven licenses but didn’t award the Pigford. And now six years later, we’re just making right which should have been done long ago. I’m thankful for the governor signing it and very grateful to President Kathleen Passidomo for putting up with our persistence and advocacy for this group that has felt shut out.”
“This bill represents the best side of the legislative process—working together across the aisle to solve a problem,” said Sen. Davis in a written statement. “Today, we have accomplished a major step in a years-long effort to give Black farmers entry into Florida’s flourishing medical marijuana industry. This bill is a solution from a number of stakeholders and a victory for farmers, their families, and for civil rights.”
In addition, the bill now allows, for the first time in FL, medical marijuana patients will have access to telehealth services.
Rep. Spencer Roach (R) was the original sponsor of the medical marijuana telehealth bill in the House. He said: “Governor DeSantis continues to demonstrate his commitment to expanding patient access to medicine, in alignment with the overwhelming majority of Florida voters. I am proud to have played a small part in moving this towards the finish line and am grateful to Speaker Renner and President Passidomo for keeping an open mind and for truly allowing the process to work. This is truly a bipartisan victory.”
As the Phoenix reported earlier this year, applicants for the Black farmer license had to pay a $146,000 nonrefundable application fee, twice more than the amount required from the initial applicants.
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After more than 71 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in Florida, the 2017 law implementing the measure included a provision that one MMTC must go to a farmer who received a settlement in the Pigford case. That was the class action lawsuit filed by Black farmers alleging discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture when it came to distributing loans and assistance.
However, no Pigford farmer received a license in 2017, and the Department of Health did not get around to granting such a license to a Black farmer until last September. That’s when it was awarded to Terry Donnell Gwinn of Gwinn Brother Farms, but nearly all of the 11 other applicants who lost out filed legal challenges, according to Marijuana Business Daily. While that litigation continues, a Black farmer still hasn’t been awarded a license.