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By Gary Cooper
Columbus Smith, an 80-year-old black farmer from Panama City, Florida, filed a lawsuit on September 22 against the Florida Department of Health in the Second Judicial Court in Leon County. He claims a new Florida law unfairly restricts his ability to apply for a license to grow medical marijuana in Florida.
Smith is a previously recognized class member in Pigford v. Glickman, a class-action discrimination lawsuit involving thousands of black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and settled in 1999, which was the largest civil rights settlement in history. Smith qualifies as a black farmer for a medical marijuana license in Florida, with the exception that he is not a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA)-Florida Chapter.
When Smith tried to join the BFAA, he was dismayed by its reply.
In a prepared statement, Smith said, “I’m a black farmer. I sought membership in the Florida Chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association so that I can be licensed to grow and produce medical marijuana under the new laws in the state of Florida. All of my life I have been discriminated against, so when I had to file a discrimination lawsuit in the Pigford case, I understood. But when I was told I could not join the BFAA, I was shocked and disappointed. And this, I could not understand.”
Tallahassee attorney Sam Ard, of Ard, Shirley & Rudolph, P.A., representing Mr. Smith, stated, “The legislation this past year amended the medical marijuana statute to allow black farmers that were part of the Pigford case to have a dispensary license. They also are required to be a member of the BFAA. Mr. Smith tried to join and was turned down verbally and in writing. We feel lawmakers were misled by the lobbyists for the BFAA, and feel this is obvious discrimination and is unconstitutional.” Ard continued, “It doesn’t look like their lobbyist told the Legislature the whole story. Their debate made it clear the new license should have included the whole class as eligible to apply.”
This story is just breaking as the lawsuit has just been filed this morning. Stay tuned for further information and updates. Meanwhile, you can find a copy of the lawsuit online.
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