Florida announced an emergency rule to issue one license designated for a Black farmer to compete in the state’s billion-dollar medical marijuana industry.

The beginning of the licensing process comes four years after lawmakers established the requirement to address past racial discrimination issues, public radio station WLRN in Miami reported.

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The requirement was part of Florida’s 2017 medical marijuana law.

A timetable wasn’t disclosed for accepting applications and issuing the Black farmer license, but the emergency rulemaking procedure means a permit could be awarded within months, according to WLRN.

The licensing process is being watched closely by the industry because it is expected to serve as a framework for additional MMJ licenses issued by the state.

Litigation stalled additional Florida MMJ licensing for years, but the state Supreme Court in May upheld the market’s limited license, vertically integrated structure that favors operators with deep financial pockets.

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Based on patient-growth triggers, Florida should issue 18 more vertical licenses in addition to the Black farmer permit, according to the head of the state’s MMJ business association.

“We are all reviewing intensely the rule and application for the Black farmer application since it will be almost identical to the application for the other 18 MMTC (medical marijuana treatment center) licenses,” Jeffrey Sharkey, president of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, wrote in an email to MJBizDaily.

Sharkey noted that there’s a “tremendous amount of interest” in the additional licenses considering the strong growth of the MMJ industry in the state and the prospect of an adult-use referendum on the 2022 or 2024 ballot.

He wrote that he expects the state to come out with its rule on the additional licenses in the first quarter of next year.

Florida currently has 22 licensed medical marijuana businesses, 16 of which are in operation.

Multistate operators have made a flurry of acquisitions in the past year to gain a foothold in the market.

Applicants for the Black farmer license will have to pay a $146,000 nonrefundable application fee and provide documents proving they were members of the “Pigford” class-action suit against federal officials for discriminatory lending practices. The case was settled in 1999.

WLRN noted that Black farmers complained they were shut out of Florida’s original medical marijuana licensing process because of restrictive eligibility requirements.

– Jeff Smith