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Heirs, partners of Black farmer challenge decision on medical marijuana licenses

WMFE

They are trying to persuade an appeals court that state health officials were wrong to scrap his application because he died before the licensing process was complete.

Heirs and business partners of a Black farmer who vied for a potentially lucrative medical marijuana license are trying to persuade an appeals court that state health officials were wrong to scrap his application because he died before the licensing process was complete.

The application of the late Moton Hopkins, a Marion County farmer and rancher, received the highest score of a dozen applicants who sought the license. An administrative law judge in February upheld the Department of Health’s decision to reject the application because the farmer died before officials finished evaluating the submissions.

But lawyers for Hopkins’ heirs and partners on Tuesday filed a brief at the 1st District Court of Appeal seeking to overturn Administrative Law Judge Gary Early’s decision.

Hopkins was among applicants who sought a medical marijuana license earmarked for a Black farmer who was a “recognized class member” in class-action lawsuits over lending discrimination by the federal government, known as “Pigford” cases.

State health officials began accepting applications for the license in March 2022, and in September announced they intended to grant a license to Suwannee County farmer Terry Donnell Gwinn. All of the applicants who lost out challenged the decision, putting Gwinn’s license on hold.

In this week’s brief, Hopkins’ lawyers argued, in part, that the license should go to the entity — not the individual — affiliated with the application. The appeal said that Early erred in finding it was an “undisputed fact” that Hopkins was the “named applicant for licensure.” Hopkins owned 51 percent of Hatchett Creek Farms LLC, which his application identified as the proposed medical marijuana operator, according to the appeal.

Hopkins’ share of the ownership interest in Hatchett Creek went to his heirs following his death last year, the brief said.

“It is significant that the ALJ (administrative law judge) mischaracterized this issue as being an undisputed fact. Appreciating the dispute surrounding this issue is fundamentally necessary in order to properly analyze whether the department created an unadopted rule,” the brief said.

Amid the legal wrangling, state lawmakers this spring passed a measure that required health officials to issue licenses to Black farmers whose applications did not have any identified deficiencies.

Of last year’s 12 applicants, only Gwinn and Bascom-based Shedrick McGriff met that provision. The Department of Health awarded licenses to Gwinn and McGriff on July 11.

Copyright 2023 Health News Florida