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Florida

Fried calls higher application fee for a medical marijuana license reserved for Black farmers discriminatory

In 2017, the Florida legislature set aside one medical marijuana license specifically for Black farmers. It hasn't been given out yet. But this month, the Florida Department of Health put out an emergency rule that specified how Black farmers could apply.

The rule doesn't say when the application window for the license will open. But it does increase the application fee to $146,000—that's more than double what prior applicants had to pay. Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried held a press conference today at a farm in Orlando regarding the rule. She told WFSU during a phone interview that the free increase is discriminatory.

"They should have awarded this license back in 2017, 2018, and should recognize that it is their fault that it has taken so long and to either eliminate the fee altogether or at the very least go back to the original application fee from 2017," Fried said.

The license is for Black farmers who were part of a federal class-action lawsuit over discriminatory lending practices by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fried said that license is needed because Black farmers are at a disadvantage in the standard medical marijuana license application process.

"Based on the amount of capital that these applicants are supposed to show and have in the bank is going to, in my estimates, prevent minorities from either applying or be competitive in the next round of applications unless something is changed now," Fried said.

Fried wants the state to break up vertical integration, which requires farmers to plant their seeds and market and sell their marijuana. She's also asking the state legislature to get rid of background screenings which are part of the medical marijuana application process.

"Based on our discriminatory cannabis laws that ha[ve] targeted our minorities across the country, a large pool of people who would want to apply in the minority communities may have some type of marijuana, cannabis conviction on their record. And so that should not be a disqualifier in this round of applications," Fried said.

There are currently 22 medical marijuana license holders in Florida. However, Fried said none of them are held by a minority farmer.

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