TALLAHASSEE — Two black farmers have received licenses to grow, process and sell medical marijuana after a new state law helped clear the way for long-awaited licenses.
On July 11, the Florida Department of Health issued licenses to Suwannee County farmer Terry Donnell Gwynn and Shedrick McGriff of Bascom. Sources confirmed that each farmer met Friday’s deadline to post the required $5 million bond to get started.
Letters sent to Gwynn and McGriff announcing the licenses pointed to a measure (HB 387) that lawmakers passed in May and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month.
The bill was intended in part to help implement a 2017 law that would have granted a medical marijuana license to a black farmer with ties to a business in the state. The farmer also had to participate in a multi-year class action lawsuit known as the “Pigford case” against the USDA over discriminatory lending practices.
State health officials accepted applications for a black farmer’s license in March 2022 after several years of delay. The Ministry of Health announced in September its intention to license Gwinn, but the unsuccessful applicants filed administrative and legal actions.
Under a law DeSantis signed into law last month, the Department of Health was required to issue licenses to black farmers who had no identified flaws in their applications. Of last year’s 12 applicants, only Gwynn and McGriff met this requirement.
The law also requires the Ministry of Health to issue licenses to applicants whose applications have been found by an administrative law judge to meet “all licensing requirements.” And the new law gives applicants whose applications are found to be incomplete a 90-day “treatment” period to resolve issues.
It is not clear how many additional licenses will be obtained by law because not all applicants may have met the criteria.
Florida voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment that would generally legalize medical marijuana. Gwynn and McGriff are entering the market as a political committee known as Smart & Safe Florida is trying to get a proposed constitutional amendment for a 2024 vote that would allow recreational use of marijuana by people aged 21 and over.
The committee is seeking approval from the Florida Supreme Court for the proposed wording of the ballot. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody called on the court to strike down the measure, arguing that it “misleads” voters.
As the third largest state in the country, investors and marijuana operators consider Florida a prime target for recreational use.
State economists recently predicted that a recreational use permit could generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million a year in state and local sales taxes.
With the addition of Gwinn and McGriff, there are now 24 licensed medical marijuana operators in the state. Men will have to obtain a permit to grow marijuana plants within two months.
“Mr. Gwinn is grateful for the long-awaited Pigford MMTC license and he and his team look forward to growing, processing and distributing quickly,” Jim McKee, Gwinn’s attorney, said Friday.
McGriff said he thanked DeSantis and state leaders for the license.
“As a black farmer, I have lived our history with agriculture and felt the weight of the imbalances we have shouldered,” he told the News Service. “We are rolling up our sleeves, carefully preparing to offer medical marijuana to those patients who need it.”
The state issued the first round of licenses for medical marijuana after lawmakers laid out a plan for the industry to allow low-THC cannabis in 2014.
Black farmers complained that none of them met the licensing criteria, which required applicants to work as nurseries in Florida for 30 years. The farmers claimed that credit discrimination partly prevented them from maintaining a job without interruption for three decades.
The 2017 Constitutional Amendment Act 2016 required health officials to issue a license to “one applicant who is a recognized member of the group” in the Pigford cases.
The law also required black farmer candidates to have been in business in Florida for at least five years and have valid nursery registration certificates from the state Department of Agriculture and Human Services.
Claimants were also required to provide documentation showing that they were recognized participants in Pigford’s class actions.