State lawmakers’ push to legalize medical marijuana has found unusual opponents in black farmers who might otherwise be interested in growing the drug.
The reason: Strict rules in proposed legislation limiting who can apply for a license to cultivate marijuana, which the farmers say amounts to discrimination.
“The bill has systematically excluded the black farmer,” Howard Gunn, Jr., president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, told members of the Legislative Black Caucus on Tuesday night.
While a campaign mounts to legalize medical marijuana in a constitutional amendment next fall, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, have made their own proposal in the Legislature (SB 460, HB 307).
They would let nurseries cleared by the Department of Health to grow strains of cannabis low in high-inducing THC — useful in helping children with conditions like severe epilepsy — expand their operations to full-scale medical pot. Only five nurseries will be on that list. Their names are expected to be released soon.
But Gunn and the 60-member farmers’ association’s vice president, Latresia Wilson, say it’s not likely any nursery on that list will be owned by a black farmer.
The only nurseries eligible must have been in business for 30 years and must grow at least 400,000 plants.
“Thirty years ago, we were fighting the USDA for discriminatory practices for not loaning money,” Gunn said.
And that’s where the proposal amounts to discrimination, he told the black caucus. It favors those growers who were licensed nurseries three decades ago, when black farmers had less access to resources.
The caucus hasn’t taken an official position. However, several members said at their meeting with the farmers Tuesday night in Tallahassee that they are on-board with the farmers’ agenda.
“That’s nothing but a carve-out,” Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said.
Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, said he thinks lawmakers should consider raising the total number of nurseries to more than five.
With only 26 members, the black caucus is far from being a majority voting bloc within the Legislature, particularly in the House, where Republicans — none of whom is a member of the caucus — hold a supermajority.
However, the farmers hope that by putting pressure on their fellow lawmakers, any law passed to expand medical marijuana in the state of Florida can be done in a way that gives black growers a better chance at entering the industry from the start.
If that doesn’t work, they might turn to legal action.
“All we’re asking for is fairness,” Gunn said. “We want the chance to grow if we so choose. You don’t need 30 years to learn how to grow marijuana."