Black farmers face uphill battle in bid to grow medical marijuana

ORLANDO, Fla. — Five years after Florida officially approved medical marijuana, there are still no Black farmers growing it in the state.

Last week, the Florida Department of Health set aside a license specifically for a Black farmer, but it comes with one major catch.

When Florida first opened up licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana, the application fee was $60,000.

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Now with a license specifically set aside for a Black farmer, that fee has more than doubled to $146,000.

Florida’s Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried joined committee members to ask the Florida Department of Health to reconsider its recent rule, which clears the way for a Black farmer to apply for a license to grow medical marijuana but more than doubles the cost of the application.

“Thank you for joining us for this very important conversation,” Fried said. “We have 22 licenses across the state of Florida and not a single one of them is minority-owned”

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A federal class action lawsuit known as Pigford complicates matters.

In the early 80s, Black farmers sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging discrimination. in 1999 the feds agreed to pay more than $1 billion to 16,000 Black farmers, about 2,000 in Florida.

These 2,000 are the only farmers who are eligible to apply for Florida’s extra medical marijuana license, but now at twice the price.

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That means people like Ray Warthen are still shut out.

“That’s a big hill for us to climb as Black farmers acquiring the medical marijuana license,” Warthen said.

Warthen and his wife run a Parramore garden and recently purchased 10 acres in Lake County to grow hemp.

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For people like Warthen, even if the state opens up additional licenses beyond the Pigford cases, the increasing cost continues to put them out of his reach.

“The overall cost I just found out yesterday is more than double. I mean my wife and I have spoken about it and I did not know it was going to be $146,000,” Warthen said.

The department of health has indicated that the doubling of the fee is because of the extensive documentation needed to review this one license. It is unclear if that fee will remain double when the state expands the number of medical marijuana licenses, something that according to statute should happen next year.

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