What’s the hold up on Florida medical marijuana licenses?
Florida’s medical marijuana industry is barely five years old but already replete with unfairness. A Black farmer has yet to receive a state cannabis license, contrary to clearly defined requirements. Issuing a license quickly so a Black farmer can enter this lucrative market is the first step toward evening the playing field.
In 2016, 71% of Floridians voted for a constitutional amendment legalizing pot for medicinal use. In spite of that resounding margin, state lawmakers and regulators stymied the process at every turn, imposing burdensome barriers for both operators and patients. The law that passed following the vote made it legal to access the drug in pill, oil, edible and vape form, but illegal to smoke it — reflecting an outdated stigma. Lawmakers arbitrarily capped the number of licenses the state would issue to growers and required them to also process and distribute the drug, making it that much harder for small operators to break into the market.
What remains unresolved: regulations for issuing a license to a Black farmer, as required by the state’s own rules. As Times staff writer Kirby Wilson recently reported, Florida has neglected the matter due to legal complications. There are now 22 treatment centers licensed to dispense marijuana across the state but not one is Black-owned. Only one is minority-owned. The unfairness is appalling. The optics are awful.
Of course, the issue cuts deeper than business licenses and lawsuits. For decades, marijuana laws in Florida and throughout the country disproportionately harmed African-Americans. Simple possession was used as the basis for countless arrests, creating criminal records that prevented people from obtaining jobs and housing. Marijuana laws also enabled prosecutors to push for longer and harsher prison sentences in the criminal justice system, leaving far too many Black people imprisoned for using and selling a drug that is now recommended by primary care doctors and dispensed like gummy bears. Hindsight painfully shows how unjust those laws were.
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