Black farmers group closed membership after new pot law passed

budIn the latest in Florida’s weed wars, an organization representing a handful of the state’s black farmers is admitting it closed its membership after the Legislature passed a law requiring the state to give someone in the group a medical marijuana license.

The new law, passed during a special session in June, called for an overall increase of 10 licenses by Tuesday (health officials said late last week they couldn’t meet the deadline of granting five licenses by Oct. 3).

One of the five licenses is required to go to a black farmer who is a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (Florida Chapter) and who was part of settled lawsuits, known as the “Pigford” cases, about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers.

Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, filed a lawsuit against the state last month, challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Smith alleges that the law is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The lawsuit contends that the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law.”

In the lawsuit, Smith claims he tried to join the black farmers’ association but was told the group isn’t taking new members. He also said that there the organization currently has only only three to five members.

The organization conceded that it closed its rolls after the law was passed, but that it will establish a “trust fund from the proceeds of the profits of the medical marijuana business that the state of Florida has set aside for our organization” to benefit Florida Pigford litigants.

In a press release, the BFAA-FL said the association has been “inundated” with calls and internet requests for information.

“The vast majority of these requests were solely for the purpose of applying for the Pigford Litigants / Claimants medical marijuana license. At the direction of our Board of Directors, and in preparation for applying for the license before the growing/harvesting season, we closed our membership even though membership in BFAA-FL is not solely to meet the requirement for MMTC licensure. We will reopen our membership after the State has issued a medical marijuana license,” the release reads.

Black farmers who aren’t part of the association can still apply for one of the four other licenses, the release points out. Health officials are giving extra points to applicants who can show minority participation in their operations.

“BFAA-FL is excited to help grow more minority participation in the new cannabis industry that has taken America and most of the world by storm. The organization is excited to see the State of Florida embrace minority participation in next round of minority applications. More importantly, BFAA-FL is excited to announce the grant that will be part of helping change the exclusionary process that has plagued the industry,” the release said.