Twelve vie for one medical marijuana license reserved for a Black farmer and worth up to $50M

Florida voted to allow at least one of the licenses to be awarded to a farmer who has experienced historic discrimination.

Twelve Black farmers have submitted applications in Florida for a lone medical marijuana license, reports The Orlando Sun-Sentinel, and it’s a guaranteed game-changer: The license could potentially be worth $50 million. 

This opportunity was set in motion by Florida voters in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, an amendment to Florida’s constitution led to the legalization of medical marijuana in the Sunshine State. That was amended a year later to include a provision specifically for a Black farmer, as none could meet the eligibility requirement in earlier bids to obtain licenses. 

A cannabis plant that’s close to harvest is shown in a grow room at the Greenleaf Medical Cannabis facility in Richmond, Virginia, last June. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP File)

Black farmers now in contention to grow medical marijuana were part of the longtime struggle to be paid for their work. Per The Miami Herald, one of the license applicants must be part of the Pigford cases, the Black farmers who sued the federal government in 1997 alleging that they’d been discriminated against in gaining access to loans, debt restructuring and other aid provided to white farmers.

Though a billion-dollar settlement was agreed upon in 2010, according to The Herald, many of the original litigants have died, and others are in their 80s and 90s.

So, while the Pigford farmers’ bids for the license is an attempt to right a wrong, its one that remains an uphill battle. 

“The task is daunting, to say the least, and that was really obvious in some of the responses, in my opinion,” Roz McCarthy, CEO and founder of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, told The Sentinel. “It took us six years to get to this point to see that, wow, well I know what you’re trying to do, but this really looks like it didn’t do what it was supposed to do.”

Black farmers in Florida face numerous obstacles to be considered for a medical marijuana license, including a non-refundable Department of Health fee of $146,000 just to make the bid. (Photo:

Black farmers face numerous obstacles to be considered for the licenses, including a non-refundable Department of Health fee of $146,000 just to make the bid. Applicants also shared their stories of the challenges of farming in difficult and discriminatory conditions. 

“In the 1800s my family suffered the abuses of slavery leaving a lasting reminder of the abuses handed down to us because of our race,” said applicant Fred Fisher, whose family worked the land in Jonesville, Florida, a Black farming community. “Those who spoke out against the abuses were lynched,” his affidavit read. 

A total of 12 applicants have been named, with varying details redacted in an attempt to protect their privacy, notes 

But according to public records, among them are Terry Donnell Gwinn, who runs the Gwinn Brothers farm in McAlpin, Florida, which specializes in growing watermelons, and Shedrick McGriff, whose family has owned the McGriff Farms for more than 75 years. The McGriffs have farmed more than 500 acres of corn, cotton and peanuts. 

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