Florida to license more Black marijuana farmers; adult-use campaign tops $60M

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Three Black farmers in Florida are eligible to receive medical marijuana cultivation permits under a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law.

The potential expansion comes as the campaign to legalize recreational marijuana heats up in the state, with total spending now reaching a industry record-setting $60.1 million, according to a campaign finance database.

Meanwhile, DeSantis is continuing his crusade against adult use, saying that legalization “would turn Florida into San Francisco or Chicago,” Orlando Weekly reported.

More Black farmers

Though license-capped Florida has no social equity program designed to encourage minority participation in the state’s regulated cannabis industry, Black farmers are eligible for special permits under a 2017 law.

State officials received applications from 12 so-called “Pigford” candidates – named for a class-action suit in which Black farmers accused the federal government of discrimination – but granted only one license, to Terry Donnell Gwinn, in 2022.

Rejected applicants later challenged that licensing decision in court.

But Gwinn and another Black farmer finally received marijuana cultivation licenses in 2023, after DeSantis signed House Bill 387 into law.

Now, with DeSantis signing Senate Bill 1582 into law last week, the state can award cultivation licenses to three more Black farmers, according to the News Service of Florida.

Despite the governor’s recent action, 73 applicants still are vying for 22 vertically integrated licenses to operate dispensaries, which Florida calls medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs).

Those hopefuls, who paid $146,000 application fees in April 2023, are waiting for state regulators to award permits.

Trulieve set spending record by itself

If more than 60% of state voters approve Amendment 3 in November, adults 21 and older will be able to purchase recreational cannabis at existing MMTCs.

With 137 MMTCs in Florida, Tallahassee-based multistate operator Trulieve Cannabis Corp. has the largest footprint on the state.

And Trulieve is betting heavily on legalization, having contributed $55.7 million toward the Smart & Safe Florida campaign since 2022, according to campaign finance records.

Other MSOs active in the state that contributed to the adult-use campaign are:

  • Verano Holdings, $2.25 million.
  • Curaleaf Holdings, $2 million.
  • Ayr Wellness, $500,000.
  • Green Thumb Industries, $500,000.
  • Cresco Labs, $400,000.

DeSantis ramps up rhetoric

Standing in their way is DeSantis, who has pledged to use cash raised by his newly created Florida Freedom Fund to mount a campaign opposing the recreational marijuana measure as well as abortion rights.

In comments Tuesday, DeSantis struck a familiar culture-war tone: Adult-use legalization would turn Florida into a more liberal state.

“We are working with a lot of stakeholders who are interested in making sure that we defeat Amendment 3, which would basically do marijuana, wherever you want, just smoke it, take it,” he said, according to Orlando Weekly.

“We already have medical marijuana, it’s out there. But we got to keep our streets clean, we cannot have every town smelling like marijuana.”

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