Black-Owned Medical Marijuana Company in Florida Breaks Barriers

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Antoinette Smith was skeptical when her husband Jonathan wanted to get into the medical marijuana industry.

He had patiently waited to see marijuana legalized in various forms in California, Colorado, and finally Florida. But she has associated painful memories with the plant which is credited with helping some, but criminalizing many others.

“When I was five, I watched my dad get locked up for selling marijuana,” Antoinette Smith said. “So at that point I said, ‘Marijuana is awful. It’s the worst thing ever.

Smith overcame her hesitation, today she and her husband operate a Miracle Leaf Health Center in suburban West Palm Beach at 100 Sansburys Way.

Yet, she recalls, it took about a year before she was convinced of her husband’s plans. As a professor at Florida International University’s School of Accountancy, with a Ph. that she had spoken with patients suffering from various health conditions who said their lives had been transformed because of it.

“It was just my overall perception of marijuana” that held her back, she said. “Then entering into this industry, we now find that it is very difficult for minorities in general to enter the industry.”

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Medical marijuana business is doing it the ‘right way’, couple say

The Smiths, who say they are the first black couple in Florida to open a medical practice and medical marijuana storefront in 2019, operate three Miracle Leaf Health Center franchises, including the West Palm Beach location, and plan to open a fourth location.

Their storefront offers doctor appointments for medical marijuana cards, connects patients with licensed dispensaries, and offers cannabidiol, or CBD, and low tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC products. , to customers without a card.

Products for sale at the doctor's office and medical marijuana retail store, Miracle Leaf of Southern Boulevard, on Sansburys Way in West Palm Beach on Wednesday, February 23, 2022.

CBD products are used for a variety of purposes, including as anti-inflammatory treatments. THC is the substance in marijuana that gives people a high, but drugs containing THC have been used to alleviate nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Jonathan Smith said the medical industry has proven there is a “right way” to sell or use marijuana.

“It’s a great example for others, that you can do it the right way (and) not have to be around the corner selling drugs and buying marijuana with LSD in it” or other substances, he said. “Being in the industry, doing it the right way, just being an example to our family, friends and community is worth it.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried visited the Smith store in suburban West Palm Beach as part of her campaign for governor, highlighting the company owned by black people and the barriers minorities face in the billion-dollar cannabis industry.

Nikki Fried talks about medical marijuana, with black entrepreneurs Jonathan and Dr Antoinette Smith in the back, after visiting their doctor's office and medical marijuana retail store, Miracle Leaf of Southern Boulevard, in West Palm Beach on Wednesday, February 23, 2022. The couple own one of the few minority-owned businesses in the cannabis industry.

Nikki Fried said the rise of the medical marijuana trade must also be fair

Fried, a former marijuana lobbyist, pushed to expand the ability to grow and buy medical marijuana when she ran for agriculture commissioner in 2018. She seeks to open access to all, with his tweet in September, “If you elect me governor, I will legalize marijuana in Florida.”

But the state still has a long way to go to make the industry fairer, Fried said, because black farmers have essentially been left out of the application process for coveted medical marijuana grow licenses.

Only 22 companies are legally allowed to grow, package, and distribute medical marijuana in the state. Only one company, Cookies, is minority owned.

Next month, the state health department will finally begin accepting applications for a one-time black farmer-only license. Such a license was to be granted more than four years ago to a recognized member of the group in the 1999 ‘Pigford’ case, which resulted in the largest civil rights settlement for the discriminatory practices of the United States Department of Agriculture. against black farmers seeking loans and assistance.

Economic Barriers Prevent Minority Investments in Medical Marijuana

However, other obstacles, mainly economic, stand in the way.

The non-refundable license application fee more than doubled from $60,000 to $146,000. Applicants must also have operated in the state for at least five years and be capable of vertical integration, which means that in addition to growing the product, they must be able to package and sell it.

“While it certainly gets the ball rolling, the problem is going to be one, it’s still one (license), and two it’s, it’s still the overhead associated with applying and then setting up and to operating operations so quickly, that it’s really going to be difficult for any of the new licensees to really catch up with the current market here in Florida,” Fried said.

In addition to addressing these barriers, Fried said more dispensaries should be located in minority communities and background check requirements should be relaxed for people who work in the industry.

“Members of the black and brown community have been disproportionately attacked in the war on drugs, and so you’re going to see a lot more people who would like to participate in leadership roles and these companies that won’t be allowed to (the hire) because they may have already had marijuana convictions,” Fried said.

She added, “It comes from the top, that if you have a governor and you have a surgeon general who respects the program and wants to encourage the program, then there are so many ways” to do licensing information and maps more readily available.

Products for sale at the doctor's office and medical marijuana retail store, Miracle Leaf of Southern Boulevard, on Sansburys Way in West Palm Beach on Wednesday, February 23, 2022.

Another obstacle is the stigma of marijuana

Back at Miracle Leaf, a medley of CBD products — gummies, pre-rolled cigarettes, pain relief balm and even pet treats — were on display behind glass as 90s R&B music played softly over the loudspeakers. speakers. The products on display have THC levels low enough that no medical marijuana card is required.

But if clients are looking for something a little more potent to soothe their ailments, a doctor is in session three days a week, meeting the patient in a bright green room marked with a “Mary Jane” nameplate on the door. .

“You’re not ashamed to go to your CVS to pick up your prescription. Why would you be ashamed to come to a dispensary to get your medicine? Fried said.

The Smiths say a major barrier they hope some people will overcome is the same thing that made Antoinette shy at first: stigma.

The couple repeatedly recalled seeing people hesitate as they walked into one of their stores. It’s a hard sight to see when they’ve seen these products help others immensely.

“We just don’t want anyone sitting around suffering for no reason at all,” said Antoinette Smith.

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