Reefers and Rattlers

Florida A&M University is awesome. Its marching band is world-class, Homecoming is as much fun as anything in the state, and the spirit runs deep.

The school, founded in Tallahassee in 1887, is widely recognized as among the very best in the nation, by any objective standard. Now the venerable institution has expanded into cannabis research. On Oct. 30, The Tallahassee Democrat’s Byron Dobson reported that one Peter Harris had been hired to oversee the medical marijuana operations at FAMU, whose “Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program” was announced earlier this year.

According to official FAMU documents, Florida law provides a mandate for hemp research. Pamela Lightbourne of Procurement Services drafted an Invitation to Negotiate stating that Florida Statute 1004.447 and subsequent rulings “provide the guidelines for FAMU and UF to approve public private partnership research initiatives with growers, investors and our faculty and staff. We believe our hemp research efforts may provide meaningful new agricultural crop alternatives to farmers throughout the state.”

Another procurement document, from Sept. 5, solicited a media partner, advertising that FAMU “is executing a Florida legislative education initiative designed to inform minority communities about the medical use of marijuana and the impact of the illegal use of marijuana on minority communities. FAMU is seeking proposals from a consultant to partner with FAMU to help create a branding campaign that will be utilized on multiple media platforms.”

There’s plenty of funding to go around. The legislation allocates $10 of every medical marijuana card fee, which is currently $75. It could easily raise it to $100 or lower it to $50 with no real disruption of applicants; it will still issue cards like Topps Stadium Club in 1991.

The Tallahassee Democrat’s Dobson cited Department of Health figures indicating that FAMU has made $885,000 so far, and spent only $132,000. Another $125,000 will go to the director, with subsequent funds going into development of the FAMU Center for Medical Marijuana Education, based at the FAMU Foundation in Tallahassee.

“The money is deposited into the FAMU Medical Marijuana Education Account,” wrote Dobson, “an interest-bearing account maintained by the university and administered by the Division of Research. With Harris’s appointment, FAMU is expected to accelerate its role in the project, which the Legislative Black Caucus was instrumental in getting included in legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott.”

The arrangement makes a lot of sense, given the Tallahassee school’s prestige as a jewel in the HCBU crown and its proximity to the levers of state power. At current growth rates, cannabis and hemp could be making money for Florida to rival tech and tourism, even citrus and dairy in the long-term–assuming further liberalization of policy. At the very least, it’s a forward-thinking move on their part.

It also opens the door to expanding educational efforts begun this summer with “Marijuana Law and Policy,” a course taught by Professor Tamieka Range of the FAMU College of Law, based in Orlando. Jade Jacobs of student newspaper The Famuan says it is “the first law school in the state of Florida, and the 14th institution in the nation, to offer cannabis courses.”

That’s pretty cool, though as a UF alum, I’m shocked that the Gators got beat to the jump on this one. Well-played!


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