Lakeland, Fla. (AP) – Nearly six years ago, the Florida Legislature set aside a medical marijuana license for a Black farmer like John Allen to join the burgeoning industry.

But the license still has not been issued by the Florida Department of Health, which regulates the industry.

Twenty-two licenses have been issued but none so far to a Black farmer, despite the aim of the Legislature in 2016. In the intervening years, the licenses have generated enormous revenues from some of the license holders – frustrating the Black farmers who wonder how they can catch up.

“The license should have been released going on five, now six years ago, where a lot of the white farmers are now $150 million to $175 million ahead of the game versus the Black farmers that have to start over at zero and are behind the ball again and the medical marijuana industry,” said Raymond Warthen, co-founder and president of Orlando-based Zion Infinite Farms, which has applied for a license. “It’s unfortunate.” Meanwhile, several top marijuana cultivators have gained sizable market share within Florida’s $1.2 billion medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) industry, which is poised to reach $2 billion in annual sales by 2025.

A report in MJBiz Daily in June 2021 said, “The 14 active MMTC license holders operate 347 dispensaries with three – Trulieve, Surterra, Curaleaf – controlling more than two-thirds of the market.”

The top six medical marijuana treatment centers account for nearly 90% of all sales. The health department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use lists 22 licensed treatment centers.

Florida Black farmers like Allen have struggled to participate in the medical marijuana industry because of laws they say are too narrowly focused for them to get into the business, with the seed-tosale vertically integrated business requirement as one of the big ones.

Cited by, a nonprofit independent news organization covering issues from farming to food, Roz McCarthy, director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana in Orlando, said the full-service requirement can be a financial hurdle.

“That $146,000 tag (application fee) is also just a fraction of the total costs,” she said. “Attorney fees, hiring technical writers and consultants, along with sourcing real estate for cultivation, processing, and dispensing locations, could run applicants at least half a million dollars.”

And while many have pointed to the current process to obtain a treatment center license as unfair and discriminatory, the health department has since opened up another window for applications. The application window in March was only open to Pigford-Black farmer litigants.

But Black farmers in Florida who were part of the Pigford vs. Glickford (USDA) class action lawsuit are either too old and frail to farm, lack financial resources despite the lawsuit settlement or have died before the license could be issued.

Once awarded, the licensee would have to compete against multi-state giants such as Trulieve Cannabis Corp., which operates in 11 U.S. states and has a market capitalization of $2.31 billion, a Yahoo Finance report said.

Allen, president of FTG Development Inc. in Cape Coral, is now one of 12 applicants for the Black farmer license who hope to hear from the state agency in the coming weeks.

The Pigford vs. Glickman/USDA case Discrimination against Black farmers in America is not new.

“Forty acres and a mule. As the Civil War drew to a close, the United States government created the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide assistance to former slaves,” wrote U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman in his 1999 opinion for the landmark Pigford vs. Glickman/USDA case.

“The government promised to sell or lease to farmers parcels of unoccupied land and land that had been confiscated by the Union during the war, and it promised the loan of a federal government mule to plow that land,” Friedman said.

Some Blacks took advantage of these programs and bought or leased farmland. During Reconstruction, however, President Andrew Johnson vetoed a bill to enlarge the powers and activities of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and he reversed many of its policies.

Much of the promised land that had been leased to Black farmers was taken away and returned to Confederate loyalists, Friedman said. “For most African-Americans, the promise of 40 acres and a mule was never kept.” Despite the government’s failure to live up to its promise, African-American farmers persevered. By 1910, they had acquired approximately 16 million acres of farmland. By 1920, there were 925,000 Black-operated farms in the United States.

Today, fewer than 50,000 Black farmers are left nationwide. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives puts the figures much lower, but for the same time period, Black-owned farms disappeared at three times faster than white-owned farms.