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Florida prepares to move forward with black marijuana licensing – Action News Jax

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TALLASSIE, Florida — Black farmers with connections to doing business in Florida will be able to apply for one of the state’s most coveted medical marijuana licenses in March, according to an emergency rule published by state health officials this week.

The notice said the Ministry of Health will accept applications for the only black farm license from March 21 until March 25.

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The application period will be the first opportunity for potential medical marijuana operators to compete for a Florida license since 2015, after lawmakers in 2014 legalized marijuana low in euphoric THC for patients with a few medical conditions.

After voters approved the 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana on a large scale, the legislature passed a law creating a framework for the cannabis industry in Florida. Part of a 2017 law requires health officials to grant a license to “a single applicant who is considered a recognized member” in a decades-old lawsuit, known as the “Pigford” cases, which addressed racial discrimination against black farmers by federal officials.

The law also requires applicants for medical marijuana licenses to have operated in Florida for at least five years and to have valid nursery registration certificates from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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The Department of Health in October issued emergency rules outlining the application process for a black farm license, but as of late Thursday it had not revealed when applications would be accepted.

Industry attorney John Lockwood described the announcement of the March application window as a “significant milestone” for the state.

“It has been a long story. It has been a long time but the time has come. I think it is a huge milestone that the state has reached a point (where) they are in a solid regulatory environment now. They are able to formally regulate the industry but at the same time fulfill their legal duties and start paying Some of these licenses.

Senior aides in the administration of Governor Ron DeSantis said earlier this year that they were prioritizing a black farmer’s license before opening applications for 19 more licenses required under the 2017 law, which tied the number of licenses to increases in the state’s eligible medical marijuana patients. . The number of patients has continued to rise steadily over the past four years.

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State officials have blamed delays in granting licenses in lawsuits and other legal challenges, which have dragged on for years as primary license holders thrive in Florida. Currently, the state has 22 licensed operators and hundreds of dispensaries spread throughout Florida.

However, critics have criticized the state for failing to allow a black grower early entry into one of the nation’s most sought-after cannabis markets, especially since the legislature was aiming for black growers to be among the first medical marijuana operators in Florida.

With applications now submitted by the end of March, health regulators can grant a lion farmer’s license in the middle of summer. This could lead to the frenzy of a medical marijuana licensing business that has been in limbo for years.

Pigford’s application will likely serve as a model for a wider licensing process, and will almost certainly produce legal and administrative challenges, as investors from around the world argue for the first opportunity in six years to join the “green rush” in Florida. “

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“For everyone looking to get into the state, this is a really positive development,” Lockwood said of the administration that has set the March application window.

According to rules set by the administration in October, applicants must pay $146,000 to compete for a black farm license — more than double the roughly $60,000 fee from the 2015 application process.

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is running for next governor-general, has criticized the six-figure non-refundable fee and asked Attorney General Ashley Moody to investigate whether the discrimination was intentional.

“The way Florida has handled the medical marijuana licensing process for black farmers is completely unacceptable and discriminatory on the face of it. We must level the playing field for black growers who have faced discrimination and obstacles,” Fried, a former member of the medical marijuana lobby, said in a prepared statement. other structural in the agriculture industry, not doubling their fees and creating additional regulatory burdens on them.Fri.

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A black farmer’s license may encounter other hurdles.

For example, a 2017 law required state health officials to grant licenses to medical marijuana applicants who were denied in the first round of licensing and were involved in licensing litigation. This could raise administrative challenges once a Pigford license is granted.

Other aspects of the law may be difficult for black farmers.

Many of the class action claimants are now 80 or deceased. Some may have run their farming business under different names than the names under which they joined the legal challenges. With start-up costs for marijuana operations ranging from $15 million to $20 million, investors are exploring a variety of ways to meet eligibility requirements for a Pigford license. Applicants’ business structures are likely to be subject to strict control by the state and competitors.

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The law does not require that Pigford applicants have resided in Florida while involved in decades-old litigation. But other parts of the law require applicants to have been “registered to do business in the state” for “five consecutive years before applying.”

Tallahassee’s attorney, Jim McKee, said the state’s law on black farmer licensing “recognizes and enforces both of those statutory requirements and provides applicants with several options to demonstrate that they have met the five-year registration requirements.”

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