While Florida lawmakers continue in their attempt to hash out the rules for the state’s low-THC medical marijuana bill, which was passed earlier last year, a legion of black farmers have come forward and professed their disdain over the law’s participatory conditions because they prevent the group from taking part in the cannabis industry.
Some describe it as “what was old is now new again,” when discussing the seemingly racists policies surrounding an apparent conspiracy that prevents the black farming community from profiting on the state’s newfound cannabis trade the same as their white and Hispanic counterparts. As it stands, Florida’s law only considers farms that have operated for at least the past 30 years and produce a minimum of 400,000 plants to be eligible to become one of the five “dispensing organizations” to supply the state’s epilepsy and cancer patients with a non-intoxicating strain of marijuana.
However, Howard Gunn, president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, argues that not a single member of the black farming community qualifies to cultivate the crop under these standards. Reports obtained through the Florida Department of Agriculture corroborate Gunn’s claim – showing that out of the 99 farms in the state that are eligible under the existing law, none of them are operated by black farmers.
Thirty years ago, the organization locked into a discrimination lawsuit (Pigford I and Pigford II) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over claims that the federal agency was not providing them with the same consideration in regards to lending and support as their white and Hispanic counterparts. In 2011, a settlement of $1.3 billion was finally reached, but many of the claimants had already been run out of business or had died waiting decades for reparations.
Earlier this week, Gunn testified before the Senate Health Policy Community, to which he suggested that the state was heading back to those old school discrimination tactics with the low-THC law, and all but begged for a change.
“They have carved out most of the small farmers, not only the black farmers, but the small farmers. We can’t compete with those companies. It’s just a shame. It’s a travesty. Again, going back 30 years ago with the USDA, the same thing you saw in Pigford I and Pigford II. It’s the same thing again, right here in the state of Florida. It’s not right,” Gunn said.
In attendance at Tuesday’s meeting was Senator Rob Bradley, who was key in the passing of the original bill, and has since proposed legislation to begin the process of farm selection as soon as it becomes law. The latest measure would increase the number of dispensing organizations to 20, while also expanding the program’s list of qualified conditions.
Although he claimed to understand Gunn’s concerns over the discriminatory 30-year rule, he worries that amending the language will only further delay the law. “The purpose of this bill is to end the legal challenges and to fulfill a promise we made to these families,’’ said Bradley.” Anything that strays from that purpose is going to be a problem for many of us since that is the reason we are pursing it this session.”
It is for this reason that Bradley asked Senator Oscar Brayon, a black Democrat, to withdraw his proposed amendment to the bill that would have eliminated the 30-year rule and given black farmers the same opportunity as anyone else to compete for the state’s business. Bradley, who calls the exclusion of black farmers an unintended consequence from last year, suggested that he was not happy with language either, but swore to work with the group towards an acceptable compromise.
The passing of this law has been sandbagged several times by a number of lawsuits filed by both patients and potential growers who have objected to its language. Yet, the 30-year provision, which was supposedly meant to give Florida’s senior farmers an advantage over aggressive competitors, has spawned a major discriminatory issue that will undoubtedly force black farmers out of the profits in the end. Not only is this rule unacceptable, but it needs to be eliminated, and without hast, in order to uphold the basic principles of a free market.