On September 20th, 2022, the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (“OMMU”) released their long-awaited pick for the lone Pigford/BFL Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (“MMTC”) license. Suwanee County farm owner, Terry Donnell Gwinn, 69, was the ‘chosen one’ for the Pigford license by beating out 11 other applicants in the competitive six-month review process. Gwinn, along with his brother, Clifford, have operated their farm – Gwinn Brothers Farm – in McAlpin for more than 40 years! Although this 1,137 sq.ft. farm previously consisted of anything from watermelons to soybeans, under their new name Gwinn Brothers Medicinals, their operations will now transform into a vertically-integrated cannabis business.
As an overview, in 2016, numerous Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment further expanding the medical marijuana program in the Sunshine State. The resulting 2017 law implemented a provision that required the Department to issue a license to a black farmer as no African American residents were able to meet eligibility requirements for the earlier 2015 license application period. The 2017 law’s provision is tied with the historic 1999 case Pigford v. Glickman, which was a class action discrimination suit between the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) and black farmers. In the successfully sought case, black farmers alleged that the USDA discriminated against black farmers in its allocation of farms loans and assistance between 1981 to 1996.
To be eligible for the competitive Pigford license, black farmers had to demonstrate continuous business operations through at least 5 years in the state of Florida. However, many were in shock when the Department released a whooping $147,000 application fee to apply for this license. Fortunately, the OMMU released that those applicants who were not chosen, may use such fee for the next application period. The next application period will be in the near future as the state of Florida currently has 750,000 registered patients, which the law requires a minimum of 22 new additional licensees to provide the present patient population.
Although this is a joyful win for the Gwinn Brothers, the eleven other applicants are facing a new obstacle of challenging the Department’s decision process that put a hold on their ability to enter into the Florida cannabis market. Several applicants and their representatives have reported to various news outlets that they will be challenging their denials. Willard Meeks’ representative Daniel Russell, Esq. from Dead Mead, stated: “Everybody who lost is going to challenge,” Daniel Russell, told the News Service. “We all saw how this went last time. There were supposed to be five licensees and now there’s more than 20, and it happened via litigation strategies and lobbying strategies. So that’s what we’re going to do again.”
With existing licenses being sold for more than $50 Million dollars, there is no wonder that many of the 11 applicants not chosen for the Pigford license will challenge the Department’s decision. It is vital to stay updated on Florida’s cannabis market as lawsuits come underway in conjunction with the new application period that should be available by the end of this year!