Almost six months after the Florida Supreme Court upheld a law that designated a single medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) license for an African American farmer, the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) issued rules for a new licensing process related to minorities.

Eligible applicants for the $50 million MMTC license are African American farmers who were litigants in the Pigford vs. Glickman lawsuit from 1999 that concluded the U.S. Department of Agriculture of discriminating against African American farmers when allocating farm loans and other financial assistance from 1981-1996.

Additionally, applicants must also have a business license that has been active for at least five years within the state of Florida.

The dates for when applications for the license will be accepted by the FDOH is March 21st, through March 25th, 2022, according to Thursday’s release.

The application date set for African American farmers is the first application window for the MMTC license since 2015 after medical marijuana was legalized by Florida legislators in 2014. When medical marijuana legislation was expanded in 2017, the law reserved the license for the Pigford litigants.

In an interview with The Florida News Service of Florida, medical marijuana industry lawyer John Lockwood praised the March application window, stating, “This has been a long saga. It’s been a long time coming but it’s due. I think it’s a big milestone that the state has got to a point (where) they’re in a solid regulatory environment now. They’re able to officially regulate the industry but simultaneously fulfill their statutory duties and start pushing out some of these licenses.”

What Lockwood is referring to is part of the 2017 law that requires the FDOH to issue four new MMTC licenses every time the number of active qualified patients increases by 100,000. Currently, there are 22 MMTC’s in Florida that are responsible for over 200 dispensaries across the state.

Given that the number of qualified medical marijuana patients has reached 600,00 patients and the fact that FDOH has not awarded licenses in the past four years, the number of new licenses being added in 2022 – aside from the one reserved for the African American farmer – is 19.

While the news regarding the application window for African American farmers is primarily seen in a positive light, Florida Agricultural Commissioner and medical marijuana advocate Nikki Fried pointed to the application process fee of $146,000 – more than double the $60,000 fee in 2015 – that was included into the FDOH’s list of rules.

“It is completely outrageous that the DeSantis Administration has raised the fees and increased the administrative burden for Black farmers applying for medical marijuana licenses in Florida. These Black farmers have been designated a protected class because of a class-action discrimination lawsuit, and it is extremely concerning that they are now being targeted with seemingly discriminatory fees and licensing requirements. Black farmers should have the same access to these licenses as the other 22 license holders that Florida has previously approved,” she wrote in a prepared statement in October.

Casey Owens is a contributing writer for The Florida Capital Star. Follow him on Twitter at @cowensreports. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “African American Medical Marijuana Farmer” by TerreDiCannabis.