By Carolyn M. Brown
National support for legalizing marijuana has been growing rapidly.
Now legalized in 23 states and the District of Columbia for medical use and four states – Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska – and DC for recreational use, cannabis is big business. Independent analysts have valued the legal industry at $3 billion and rising to $10 billion when including ancillary trades and services.
Cassandra Farrington, the co-founder and chief executive of Marijuana Business Media, puts the industry’s workforce at 60,000.
Others sates are expected to follow suit over the next couple of years, putting an end to cannabis prohibition. With the industry concentrating on making cannabis more of a mainstream and sellable product, a growing crop of businesses are expected to profit from the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
There has been widespread concern that African American entrepreneurs would be left out America’s big green rush. Now there is concern that black farmers will be kept out as well.
In many states that have legalized medical marijuana, people with drug-related felony convictions cannot open cannabis-related businesses. Additionally, application fees and licensing fees for medical marijuana dispensaries often total tens of thousands of dollars, further keeping opportunity at arm’s length for many minority entrepreneurs.
What’s more, many states like Florida are allowing nurseries to grow and distribute it, but under very tight constraints. A provision of a Florida medical marijuana law has caused much controversy among black farmers in the state who say it’s shutting them out of the potentially lucrative industry, reports ThinkProgress.org. This group has now taken their fight to the Florida legislature in the hopes of passing an amendment that takes the regulation out of the bill.
Last year, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, which allows some nurseries in the state to grow and distribute low-THC marijuana to patients who suffer from cancer, seizures, and muscle spasms. But the law stipulates that those who qualify for licensing must have operated as a registered nursery in Florida for 30 consecutive years — a criterion that many, if not all, black farmers in the state can’t meet. Farmers of color say they’ve been hampered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s past discriminatory practices that have made it difficult for them to thrive in the industry.
“There weren’t that many black farmers 30 years ago in the nursery business,” Howard Gunn, Jr, the president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, told FOX News. “Because of that, we weren’t able to produce as much or be as profitable as [other] farmers. If we found one [black] farmer growing that many plants, it would be surprising.”
Regardless of the outcome, the current case in Florida has reminded some farmers of color that their economic position didn’t occur by happenstance, according to ThinkProgress.com. During the Reconstruction Era, for example, freed slaves couldn’t receive farming loans without credit history.
The USDA later marginalized farmers of color by increasing tax sale, seizing of land through eminent domain, delaying loans until after the end of the planting season, and denying crop disaster relief funds. By the early 1990s, the black farmer population fell by nearly 100 percent, eventually prompting a class action lawsuit against the USDA that resulted in the allocation of more than $2.3 billion to more than 13,000 farmers.