Florida regulators have announced that they will miss the official deadline to issue five licenses to businesses hoping to cultivate or sell medical cannabis in the state. A recently-passed law expanding the rules and regulations for the state's medical marijuana industry stipulated that the state must issue ten licenses by October 3rd, but officials were only able to issue half of the licenses by this date.
According to Christian Bax, executive director of the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use, the delay was caused by Hurricane Irma, in addition to a recent lawsuit alleging that the state's medical cannabis law is unconstitutional. Last month, Columbus Smith, a black cannabis farmer from Panama City, filed a lawsuit claiming that the large number of restrictions and regulations prevented minority farmers from qualifying for a license, violating equal opportunity protections granted under the state constitution.
The current law stipulates that one of the ten available licenses must be granted to a black farmer, but only if they had taken part in a lengthy lawsuit filed nearly four decades ago. In 1981, black farmers filed a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture racially discriminated against farmers by denying or delaying loan requests and increasing land taxes. In addition to offering a license to a farmer who participated in this suit, Florida officials have said that they are considering other ways to foster equal opportunities in the medical cannabis industry, but have not provided further details on these efforts.
Smith's lawsuit is one of 13 legal challenges the OMMU has received since 2015, and two of these suits are still ongoing, according to Bax. “The OMMU is aware of its important role in continuing to move this process forward to provide patient access as quickly and safely as possible,” Bax said in a statement regarding the delays. “However, recent history has emphasized the importance of getting the MMTC (medical marijuana treatment center) licensure process right the first time.” A new deadline to issue the remaining five licenses has not been announced.