Judge sides with black farmer in pot dispute
A Tallahassee judge issued a final order Tuesday in a dispute over a marijuana license earmarked for a black farmer, one of 10 coveted medical-marijuana licenses ordered by state lawmakers as part of a law passed last year.
Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson granted a temporary injunction requested by Columbus Smith, a Panama City black farmer who challenged a portion of the new law, which was designed to implement a voter-approved constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana.
Under the law, one of the 10 licenses must go to a grower who had been part of settled lawsuits, known as “Pigford” cases, about discrimination against black farmers by the federal government.
The law also requires the black farmer who receives a license to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter.
But lawyers for Smith argued that, while he meets the qualification of being part of the Pigford litigation, he has not been allowed to join the black farmers association, effectively preventing him from receiving a license.
The Florida Constitution bars “special” laws, in part, that relate to “grant of privilege to a private corporation.”
The lawsuit alleges the medical-marijuana law violates that part of the Constitution.
Smith tried to become a member of the association after the law was passed last year, but the association was not accepting new members and “has indicated that it does not intend to accept new members” until after the Department of Health issues a license to a black farmer who meets the criteria laid out in the law, Dodson wrote in the seven-page order.
In stopping the health department from moving forward with granting a license to a black farmer, Dodson ruled that Smith has a substantial likelihood of success of proving that the law is unconstitutional.
“Plaintiff will likely suffer irreparable harm if this court does not enjoin the department from issuing the black farmer license because the law only applies to members of the association and plaintiff … will not be able to apply or qualify for such a license, because he is not a member of the association,” Dodson wrote.
The order also asked both sides to come up with a plan to resolve the issue by June.
Legislative leaders have said they will address the issue during the 60-day session that began Tuesday.
Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has been instrumental in passage of the state’s medical marijuana laws, said the Legislature will likely strip out the part of the law requiring membership in the association for an applicant to be eligible for the black-farmer license.
News Service of Florida