At least one black farmer will become one of the state’s newest licensees to grow medical marijuana, but it’s unclear exactly who will benefit from the state’s tight requirements for qualifying licensees.
Florida is looking to even the playing field for farmers of color when it comes to growing medical marijuana, but the reality is, not many farmers -- let alone black farmers -- may qualify to become a new licensee under strict requirements to even be considered for a spot on the medical marijuana growing roster.
Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill into law to regulate the state’s medical marijuana industry, giving blacks an “in” to the business which is only expected to explode as more licenses become available.
Under SB 8A, at least one of the state’s new medical marijuana licensees will be a class member of the Florida Chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.
To be a qualifying class member, farmers must have participated in the Pigford v. Glickman case, a lengthy lawsuit which began in 1981 and spanned nearly two decades.
In the 1980s, black farmers alleged the U.S. Department of Agriculture racially discriminated against black farmers in a myriad of ways, marginalizing minority farmers by increasing land tax, delaying loans until the end of planting season and only approving a small amount of black farmers’ loan requests.
Black farmers struggled to succeed in the farming industry and as a result, the number of black farmers plummeted in the 1990s -- by nearly 100 percent.
Desperation prompted the black farmers to file a class action lawsuit against the USDA. The suit spanned 17 years from 1981 to 1999 until the USDA agreed to pay a settlement of more than $2.3 billion back to the farmers.
Now, to cash in on medical marijuana, black farmers must meet an extremely narrow set of criteria that could shut many of them out completely.
In order to be a class member of the Pigford v. Glickman case, black farmers must have been in operation over 30 years ago and must have participated in the case. That means they’d have to still be around to apply for a license to grow medical marijuana in 2017.
The exact number of black farmers who actually qualify is a mystery.
USDA data shows only 284 claims prevailed in the Pigman case. Other states, like Alabama and Mississippi, had more than 3,000 prevailing claimants each.
“That information is very hard to come by,” Howard Gunn, Jr., president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, told Sunshine State News.
Gunn has previously gone on record saying there was not a great number of black farmers on the books in the '80s. Fierce competition and an unfair playing field caused some to call it quits early, meaning the same black farmers who were operating 30 years ago might not even be around anymore.
“There weren’t that many black farmers 30 years ago in the nursery business,” Gunn told FOX News in 2015. “Because of that, we weren’t able to produce as much or be as profitable as [other] farmers.”
When asked how many class members participated in the lawsuit in Florida, Black Farmers Agriculturalist Association Vice President Latresia Wilson refused to disclose who would be vying for the licenses, if anyone.
“We are going to hold that information back,” she told SSN. “Once the applications are turned in, then that will become public information."
Complicating matters is the reality that black farmers have historically had less access to resources throughout history due to the USDA’s discriminatory practices.
On top of that, the road to entrepreneurship in the medical pot industry is already difficult for blacks, some of whom are felons who have lost their voting rights and ability to break into the medical marijuana industry.
Marijuana arrests account for over half of all drug arrests in the country, with blacks being disproportionately more likely to be locked up for possession of the drug.
Sunshine State News contacted the USDA for further information, but several calls were not returned over the span of weeks.
The new law allows for 10 new medical marijuana treatment centers to open by Oct. 3, in addition to the seven original growers already in operation.
The name of the black farmer licensed to grow and distribute medical marijuana is, however, at this point, still uncertain.