Florida to Grant Additional Cannabis Licenses for Black Farmers, Expands Telehealth Renewals

The Florida legislature signaled a move toward increased access and inclusivity in the state's medical marijuana market.

Florida’s medical marijuana market is poised for expansion following the passage of a bill that extends the renewal of marijuana prescriptions over telehealth and authorizes nearly a dozen additional licenses for Black farmers to enter the cannabis industry.

The bill, HB 387, passed with bipartisan support in the House with a 105-8 vote. It had previously cleared the Senate with strong support.

The move is expected to spur growth in the industry while addressing past disputes related to the Pigford class action suit, as it grants additional medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) licenses to all of the Pigford round applicants who were not disqualified.

The bill also extends the temporary authorization for patients to renew medical marijuana prescriptions remotely through telehealth, initially implemented during the early days of the pandemic and after Hurricane Ian. Doctors must still conduct an in-person physical examination for the initial authorization of medical marijuana use.

The state legislature passed the bill, which was initially focused on telehealth, with an amendment encompassing the MMTC Pigford license issue. The bill received strong support in both the Senate and the House.

According to sources familiar with the matter, the new Pigford licenses will not reduce the number of licenses from a separate application process – which concluded last week – that offered an additional 22 licenses.

The legislation also includes provisions for suspending a doctor’s registration for up to two years if they violate state statutes governing medical marijuana prescription or use.

Pigford Case

Florida initially established a vertically integrated licensing program for marijuana production and dispensing after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in 2016. However, no licenses were initially granted to Black farmers.

The first license for a Black recipient, Terry Gwynn, was issued last September.

The Pigford round dates back to March 2022, when a single license was allocated for a Black farmers in response to a class action suit involving historical racial discrimination with the USDA. The license resulted in litigation, and the current legislation aims to settle those lawsuits by issuing MMTC licenses to qualified applicants.

While the recent application round for 22 licenses remains separate from the Pigford round, industry insiders and owners are closely watching the impact on the market. Applicants who participated in that round paid a nonrefundable $146,000 application fee, based on the understanding that only 22 new licenses would be introduced.

The legislative decision to issue additional licenses to Black farmers may affect market valuations and raises some questions of fairness, though many have noted that the impact of systemic, calculated racial discrimination against Black businesses across industries outweighs those concerns.

The conversations surrounding these developments have highlighted the need for understanding the historical context of racial discrimination related to the Pigford issue, in addition to the separation between the legislature and the Florida Health Department, which is overseeing the process for the other 22 licenses.

Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican who championed the bill in the House, emphasized that both parties could rally behind the bill’s accomplishments. According to Florida Politics, he pointed out that the Legislature has been working for six years to ensure fairness in state licenses for marijuana production, aligning with the federal Pigford v. Glickman settlement that bans government discrimination against minority farmers.

“Today, we’re going to make history not just because we’re going to make good on the Pigford litigation that started back in 2017, six years ago,” Roach said, “but you’re going to make history today because for the first time in the House, Rep. (Angie) Nixon has spoken in favor of one of my bills.”

Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, praised the House for concurring with the Senate on the new licenses, expressing her happiness that more Black farmers would have the opportunity to obtain a license.

The bill will take effect on July 1.

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson writes about the cannabis industry for the Green Market Report. He previously covered the Missouri Statehouse for the Columbia Missourian and has written for the Missouri Independent. He most recently covered retail, restaurants and other consumer companies for Bloomberg Business News. You can find him on Twitter at @adam_sjackson and email him at adam.jackson@crain.com.

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