Black farmers in Florida stand to benefit from a medical cannabis bill passed in the waning days of the state legislature’s 2023 session. HB 837 would give a second chance to farmers passed over during an earlier application process to award what is known as the Pigford Black Farmer License. Pigford refers to a class-action lawsuits by Black farmers that claimed they had been unfairly denied loans and other benefits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The new law provides for licensure by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) of all Black Farmer License applicants who had received an approval or denial notice from DOH, “which did not cite any deficiencies with the application, regardless of the applicant’s final score.” HB 837 also orders the licensure of Black Farmer License applicants who challenged the application process under Florida’s Administrative Procedure Act, provided they received a final determination from an administrative judge, “determining that the applicant met all requirements for licensure … regardless of the applicant’s final score.”
HB 387 also mandates a 90-day period for Black Farmer License applicants to cure any deficiencies in previously submitted applications. In addition, the new law requires the continuation of any administrative challenges initiated by a Black Farmer License applicant who subsequently passed away; if successful, DOH must issue a license to the applicant’s estate.
Whether expanded licensure for Black farmers becomes a reality in Florida is now in the hands of Governor Ron DeSantis. In the past, the governor has vocally supported Florida’s legal regime for medical cannabis, pushing his own party’s legislators to allow the smoking of medical cannabis. At that time, DeSantis noted that the “70 percent of Florida voters … in favor of medical use of marijuana for people with really serious, debilitating conditions … is about as big a majority as you can get in this day and age,” adding, “Whether they have to smoke it or not who am I to judge that?”
As DeSantis campaigns for president, though, he needs to think beyond the Florida electorate. On the one hand, signing HB 387 into law would not impact DeSantis’s stance on cannabis legality (medical, yes; adult-use, putrid). At the same time, an initiative that favors Black farmers might be seen by some potential constituents as pandering to the “woke indoctrination” against which DeSantis rails. Either way, all eyes are on Ron.