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Is Florida’s Medical Marijuana Law Discriminatory?

Is Florida's Medical Marijuana Law Discriminatory?
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A lawsuit set to combat a new Florida law regarding medicinal cannabis licenses might possibly challenge the constitutionality of the state’s rubric—and right injustices against black farmers who wish to obtain it.

Designed To Fail

The lawsuit was filed by Columbus Smith, a farmer and person of color based out of Panama City, Florida, who opines that a subset of the measure is discriminatory against black farmers.

The reason?

Currently, the “special law,” which operates as a constitutional amendment, contains an allotment for one license meant specifically for one black farmer who “had been part of settled lawsuits about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers,” according to the Sun Sentinel.

At face value, the measure appears to be in the vein of affirmative action. As per Smith’s lawsuit, this is the furthest from the truth.

In fact, the designation itself is limiting and could feasibly influence arbiters to grant licenses to non-black farmers, doing the opposite of what the implementation of the measure is there for in the first place.

According to the new law, only one out of 10 licenses would specifically go to a black farmer who was specifically part of a preceding suit, a case known as Pigford v. Glickman. As it stands, the licenses will be granted on October 3.

“There is no rational basis for limiting the opportunity of black farmers to obtain a medical marijuana license to only the few members of that class of black farmers who are also member of a specific private association,” said the lawsuit, which was filed in Leon County circuit court last week.

The amendment, which was passed during a special session earlier this summer, was designed to develop and expand the number of MMJ licenses for growers in an industry projected to funnel large amounts of revenue into the state’s economy.

Final Hit: Is Florida’s Medical Marijuana Law Discriminatory?

As the Sun Sentinel noted, disparities between black farmers and their white and Latinx counterparts is an issue spanning back decades.

Many cite unfair lending practices that precluded black farmers from receiving fair land taxes and delayed bank loans.

Pigford v. Glickman, the aforementioned class-action lawsuit brought to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was meant to challenge these practices. Known as “Pigford I,” the suit, which was filed in 1981, and a subsequent suit, known as “Pigford II,” were finally brought to a close nearly 20 years later in federal court.

Claimants in the suit were set to receive approximately $1.3 billion in settlements; as of now, many of these self-same plaintiffs have yet to receive any money. In the following years, a number of claimants passed away while waiting to receive these de facto reparations.

“They have carved out most of the small farmers, not only the black farmers, but the small farmers,” Howard Gunn, a black farmer from Ocala and president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter, told the press in 2015, addressing the matter.

“We can’t compete with those companies. It’s just a shame. It’s a travesty,” he added at the time.

The suit comes at a time where discussion is opening up regarding the glass ceiling for POC and members of other minorities within the cannabis industry.

In a recent interview with NPR, Andrea Unsworth, founder of the organization Supernova Women whose purpose is to empower and educate entrepreneurs affected by this self-same glass ceiling, elucidated the obstacles many POC and members of other minority communities must overcome in the age of the Green Rush.

“At least, we need to recognize that there has been an unfair—an unjust war—on people of color that has had an impact over the past 20 to 30 years and has kept them out of the cannabis industry that is now burgeoning,” Unsworth explained. “And so, if we’re going to have folks coming into the cannabis industry, we have to at least acknowledge that there has been demonstrable damage done to a lot of these communities that would love to be entrepreneurs that should have been some of the first in line.”

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