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Black Farmer's Lawsuit Accuses Florida's Medical Marijuana Laws of Racism

When Florida passed its medical marijuana bill, it also included provision to give out 10 licenses to farmers to legally grow cannabis crops. But according to a recent lawsuit, that provision may actually constitute racial discrimination.

Columbus Smith is a black farmer from Panama City, Florida. He filed a lawsuit on Friday claiming that the state's qualifications for black farmers to obtain a cannabis license are unfairly narrow that only a small group can actually qualify.

Under the state law, one of the 10 marijuana grow licenses would be given to a black farmer who participated in the Pigford v. Glickman case, which was a court case that spanned over two decades accusing the Department of Agriculture of racial discrimination. The state of Florida used the provision as a means to help diversify the marijuana industry, but Smith claims it's done the opposite.

In addition to being part of the lawsuit, the qualified farmer must also be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. But there's an issue there, as the organization is currently not accepting new members for undisclosed reasons.

Smith says that these two qualifications restrict the number of eligible black farmers by such a degree that it constitutes discrimination. 

“There is no rational basis for limiting the opportunity of black farmers to obtain a medical marijuana license to only the few members of that class of black farmers who are also member of a specific private association,” the lawsuit read. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says 284 farmers in Florida were part of the Pigford v. Glickman case. It's unclear how many of those farmers are both still active in the industry as well as members of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

Diversity is one of the largest talking points in the cannabis industry. The industry's quick growth has opened up opportunities for anyone interested, but there still remains roadblocks for certain minorities. Perhaps Smith's lawsuit can begin to bridge the gap.


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