Florida grants commercial pot license to black farmer

After years of relentless delays, Florida has completed the application process for black farmers vying for a specially designated commercial cannabis license that will open the door to the billion-dollar medical marijuana industry.

On September 20, the Florida Department of Health announced plans to give Donell Gwinn the license, which has been reserved for a black farmer applicant since 2017.

For more than two decades, Gwinn operated Gwinn Brothers Farm alongside his brothers Robert and Clifford near the community of McAlpin in Suwannee County. The siblings raised cattle and grew peanuts, clay peas, watermelon and hay on their 1,100-acre property.

Gwinn is set to become the 23rd holder of a commercial cannabis license in Florida. Many of the current 22 licensees are multi-state, publicly traded marijuana companies valued at billions of dollars.

The North Florida farmer beat out 11 other black farmer license applicants.

“Mr. Gwinn is very pleased that his application has been selected for licensing and is grateful for the hard work of the Florida Department of Health, Office of Medical Marijuana Use to complete the review. requests received,” Gwinn’s attorney, Jim McKee, said in a statement to the Florida Press Service.

The special license was put in place in 2017 when the Florida legislature drafted regulations for the state’s nascent cannabis industry after voters legalized medical marijuana. The settlement required that the license be granted to a black farmer who was part of the class of plaintiffs linked to the 1997 litigation known as Pigford v. Glickman. In this landmark case, thousands of black farmers successfully sued the US Department of Agriculture for discriminating against them in the granting of loans.

Last year, the Pigford license application fee was increased to $146,000, significantly higher than the $60,000 fee paid in the past to apply for a standard cannabis business license. The move prompted an outcry from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who criticized the years-long delay in issuing the Pigford license and called the medical marijuana licensing process of the State of “unacceptable and discriminatory on its face”.

In addition to high application fees, Florida cannabis companies are responsible for all stages of business, from cultivation to distribution, as the state has a strict, vertically integrated model for the industry. All of these requirements have made it nearly impossible for small businesses without great financial backing to enter the medical marijuana market.

The Florida Department of Health justified the delay in issuing commercial cannabis licenses, including the Pigford license, by pointing to lengthy litigation that challenged its licensing system.

The legal quagmire seemed to have been resolved, at least in part, when the Florida Supreme Court upheld the licensing system in a May 2021 decision.

Still, the health department fell far behind its quota, which requires it to issue four standard licenses for every 100,000 new medical marijuana patients in the state.

The licenses are considered “golden tickets” to the Sunshine State medical marijuana market and constantly change hands to the tune of millions of dollars. Recently, national cannabis operator MedMen sold its license, cultivation and processing facilities, and 14 dispensaries to Fort Lauderdale-based Green Sentry Holdings for $63 million.

As of September 16, more than 751,000 medical marijuana patients were registered in Florida. Annual cannabis sales in the state could reach $1.5 billion this year, according to estimates from MJBiz Factbook.

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