Why Do Black Farmers Face Roadblocks to Florida's Cannabis Market?
Exorbitant licensing fees are just a start.
Since 2016, the Florida Legislature - through the Florida Department of Health - has issued more than two dozen medical marijuana licenses for farmers looking to enter the MMJ industry. However, black farmers are still waiting for their licenses to be issued as regulated by the Florida Legislature.
Having licenses is known to generate increased revenue for licensees. But it seems that in Florida there are few who count on this benefit, a situation that frustrates black farmers who would like to participate in the cannabis industry.
"The license should have been released going on five, now six years ago, where a lot of the white farmers are now $150 million to $175 million ahead of the game versus the Black farmers that have to start over at zero and are behind the ball again and the medical marijuana industry," said Raymond Warthen, co-founder and president of Orlando-based Zion Infinite Farms, which applied for a license years ago. "It's unfortunate."
License holders reap benefits of growing market
In contrast, several cannabis growers gained considerable market share within Florida's $1.2 billion medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) industry, which is poised to hit $2 billion in annual sales by 2025.
"The 14 active MMTC license holders operate 347 dispensaries with three — Trulieve, Surterra, Curaleaf (OTC: CURLF) — controlling more than two-thirds of the market," reads a report published in June 2021.
According to the health department's Office of Medical Marijuana Use, "the top six medical marijuana treatment centers account for nearly 90% of all sales." In addition, there are 22 licensed treatment centers.
"Laws are too narrowly focused for us to get into the business, with the seed-to-sale vertically integrated business requirement as one of the big ones," said John Allen, a Black farmer and president of FTG Development Inc., a licensed nursery in Cape Coral for over 38 years and an applicant for a Florida medical marijuana treatment center license.
Is this impediment related to financial hurdles?
"That $146,000 tag (application fee) is also just a fraction of the total costs," said Roz McCarthy, director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) in Orlando. "Attorney fees, hiring technical writers and consultants, along with sourcing real estate for cultivation, processing, and dispensing locations, could run applicants at least half a million dollars."
However, since farmers have raised their voices and pointed out the unfair and discriminatory treatment, Florida health department officials opened a new round of applications. Although, the application frame - last March - was only open to Pigford-Black farmer litigants.
Black farmers in Florida who were part of Pigford v. Glickman (USDA) are too old to be back in business. In addition, they lack financial resources or have died before the license could be issued. Additionally, the license holder would have to compete against multi-state giants like Trulieve Cannabis Corp., for example.
John Allen is one of the 12 black farmers who applied for licenses and is waiting for the Florida Legislature to provide them with information and good news to continue advancing in their businesses.