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Bank Closes Campaign Account of Florida Candidate Who Advocates for Medical Marijuana

| August 20, 2018

Democrat Nikki Fried is running for Commissioner of Agriculture in Florida. (Facebook)

Democrat Nikki Fried is running for Commissioner of Agriculture in Florida. (Facebook)

Wells Fargo shut down the campaign account of a candidate seeking a seat on the Florida Cabinet because she took contributions from lobbyists representing the medical marijuana industry, according to records provided by Democrat Nikki Fried on Monday.

Fried, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, has made advocacy for medical marijuana a cornerstone of her campaign for agriculture commissioner. Fried once lobbied for medical-marijuana operators and helped shape the state’s laws and regulations regarding cannabis use, sales and distribution.

Fried opened a campaign account with Wells Fargo in June, shortly after qualifying for the Cabinet race.

But within weeks, officials with the financial giant began questioning Fried and her campaign staff because of her “political platform” and her links to the marijuana industry.

“As part of the onboarding of the client it was uncovered some information regarding the customers (sic) political platform and that they are advocating for expanded patient access to medical marijuana,” Antoinette Infante, Wells Fargo senior relationship manager, vice-president, wrote on July 11 in an email to Fried’s campaign treasurer, Gloria Maggiolo.

“Can you confirm the types of transactions expected for this customer & if any of the transactions will include funds received from lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity?” Infante asked.

Maggiolo told the bank that contributions “will be, and have been, received from lobbyists for the medical marijuana industry, as well as from executives, employees and corporations” in the industry, adding that Fried no longer lobbied for marijuana operators.

On Aug. 3, Wells Fargo gave Fried’s campaign 30 days to shut down the account.

“This is much bigger than my campaign. I am happy to tell Wells Fargo ‘good riddance,’ and finding a bank to take my campaign contributions without making a value judgment on my platform was not difficult to find. However, when this happens to a medical marijuana business, as it does every day all over the country, it has a much more devastating impact,” Fried told reporters Monday at a press conference in the Capitol.

The shutdown of Fried’s campaign account is a new development in a battle pitting financial institutions like Wells Fargo against medical marijuana operators, ancillary businesses and associations focused on a substance that’s authorized in some form in about 30 states but remains illegal under federal law.

“I’ve never seen a candidate targeted specifically because of their support for the marijuana industry. It is an egregious issue of free speech, and it’s one that shouldn’t be tolerated,” Michael Bronstein, founder of the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp, told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview Monday.

While it’s not unusual for banks to distance themselves from marijuana industry operators, Fried’s account “wasn’t even judged on what type of money was coming in,” Bronstein said.

“It was the political views of the candidate that were being shut down. This is a backdoor to silencing political speech,” he said.

Wells Fargo spokesman Michael H. Gray said the bank could not comment directly on a customer’s account but indicated that the California-based bank was complying with “strict regulatory and risk guidelines” governing the banking industry.

“It is Wells Fargo’s policy not to knowingly bank or provide services to marijuana businesses or for activities related to those businesses, based on federal laws under which the sale and use of marijuana is illegal even if state laws differ,” Gray said in a statement emailed Monday to The News Service of Florida. “We continually review our banking relationships to ensure we adhere to strict regulatory and risk guidelines.”

Problems with banking have plagued Florida marijuana operators since lawmakers first authorized non-euphoric cannabis in 2014, and the banking woes have escalated since voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana in 2016.

Lobbyist Ron Watson formerly served as the executive director of the Florida Society of Cannabis Physicians. Watson told the News Service his group recently decided to disband after losing its banking service four months ago. The doctors’ group was unable to find another financial institution to handle its business, Watson said.

“The focus on the banking industry has been taken to an absurdity here,” Watson said, referring to Fried. “We have a statewide candidate running for office that had her bank account shut down because she spoke about medical cannabis and then took money from lobbyists? That’s ridiculous. This has to be fixed. Washington has to fix this.”

Watson, Fried and Bornstein are among those calling on Congress to approve a bipartisan measure, known as the STATES act, that would give states like Florida more power to regulate marijuana and would loosen banking restrictions that currently hamstring legal marijuana operations.

“Outdated federal laws allow for this sort of discrimination. Politicians refuse to act, and big banks like Wells Fargo do everything they can to block progress,” Fried said Monday.

Fried’s dilemma is “representative of anybody who is either directly or indirectly involved in the medical cannabis industry both in Florida and all over the country,” lobbyist Jeff Sharkey, who represents various medical marijuana interests, said in an interview.

Sharkey, whose clients include the Medical Marijuana Business Association, said the banking issue affects accountants, lawyers, associations and others tied to the industry.

“It’s a widespread problem,” Sharkey said.

But one of Sharkey’s other clients might be an answer for those, such as Fried, searching for a bank eager to embrace marijuana-linked money.

GRN Funds, based in Belleview, Wash., complies with federal guidelines and is now providing services to medical marijuana operators and others affiliated with the cannabis industry in the Florida, Sharkey said. The company handles hundreds of accounts outside of Florida.

“This is needed now more than ever since banks like Wells Fargo are unwilling to serve the industry,” Sharkey said.

Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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18 Responses for “Bank Closes Campaign Account of Florida Candidate Who Advocates for Medical Marijuana”

  1. Ben James says:

    Wells Fargo Bank rips people off, sets up accounts for folks and then charges them without permission and now this sort of an American nonsense. Boycott Wells Fargo!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Who would even consider banking at Wells Fargo with all their history of corruption and dishonesty? The Feds should have closed this bank down long ago! I smell another law suit coming against this bank.

  3. palmcoaster says:

    What a travesty shows that the Big Boys want total political control.

  4. beachcomberT says:

    Why did Wells Farge decide to become a political policeman, and does their refusal to serve marijuana advocates violate federal or state discrimination laws? I can think of many organizations that challenge federal laws in many areas, such as prescription sourcing, nutritional supplements, holistic medicine, cancer treatment, water testing, environmental safety, etc. Does Wells Fargo refuse to sere those potential clients, too? So long as there is no evidence of money laundering, tax evasion or consumer fraud, I think WF should serve all prospective customers.

  5. John Brady says:

    Note to Wells Fargo, we are not using stage coaches anymore.

  6. Coyote says:

    ““It is Wells Fargo’s policy not to knowingly bank or provide services to marijuana businesses or for activities related to those businesses, based on federal laws under which the sale and use of marijuana is illegal even if state laws differ,” Gray said in a statement emailed Monday to The News Service of Florida.”

    So, if the State of Florida wanted to open accounts with Wells Fargo (BTW, DOES the State of Florida or any governmental office already have any accounts with Wells Fargo?), WF would shut them down?

    How about the physicians who prescribe medical marijuana? Are they also closed out of W-F?

    I hate to become a proponent of whataboutism, but this is a clear case of unique discrimination based upon a bunch of blarney and poorly-thought out rationalizations on the part of W-F.

    And, the good thing is … look at all the free publicity Ms. Fried is getting – and once again, W-F is receiving plenty of negative publicity from their actions.

  7. Mike says:

    Who in the world would open a account at the worst bank in America. Creating false accounts, charging auto loan customers unnecessary GAP insurance, poor leadership, just a piss poor excuse of a bank. Stay away folks. Even politicians should stay away and that is bad!

  8. Trailer Bob says:

    Perhaps this may provide an opportunity to credit unions that only operate in states where medical ganja use is legal. With every wall there is an alternative route.

  9. Lazaruis says:

    I don’t understand what the big deal is about medical marijuana.
    It’s just another plant based drug like aspirin and penicillin.
    If properly prescribed it is like any other drug .
    I am not a user and would not let my kids buy it for any other reason.

  10. Lazaruis says:

    Also I am disgusted with the narrow minded banking system .
    They are anti NRA and anti pawnshops – now against medical marijuana.
    What’s next ?? — this is a very slippery slope.

  11. Steve Jones says:

    wells fargo also had that fake account scandal where they were opening fake accounts in their customer’s names right? how is that bank still operating after that? like wells fargo is relevant anymore anyways. you would be better off storing all of your money on your front lawn than at wells fargo.

  12. Hugh Janus says:

    hey, remember that time when wells fargo opened all of those fake accounts in their customers names?

  13. John Dolan esq. says:

    Anyone patronizing Wells Fargo should know they cheated veterans on new car loans while they served their country overseas. This outfit is corrupt to the top.

  14. Truth says:

    You people do realize the Federal government has tremendous rules and regulations in play for the banking industry when doing business with those in the marijuana industry. Any time transactions are made with a marijuana business, no matter if legal, a bank is required to fill out paperwork called a SAR. In states where there are multitudes of these businesses, you would need 50-100 people easily at each large bank just filling out SAR’s for these transactions all day long. Do you even know what a SAR is? It’s not just a form that is signed, it can take a long, long time to fill one of these documents out.

    Think about it…do you really think a bank wants more regulation and wants to deny the potential for new loans and new business? This sounds like a slander-fest against banks by someone that doesn’t understand the banking industry and the regulations put in place by the Federal government. Don’t even get me started on Credit Unions because that is a discussion for another day. It is seriously idiotic and poor reporting to think that any bank would pay to keep these regulations in place…ask any high end banker and they want regulations and they will laugh at you and tell you they would prefer none at all because it hampers business.

  15. Anonymous says:

    This sort of strong arming goes both ways.NRA and stores not carrying or limiting types of guns.Sound familiar?

  16. robert greene says:

    Taking nasty action against someone with differing political views…..sound familiar?

  17. Agkistrodon says:

    Small local banks and credit unions are the way to go. Let Kalifornika have their Wells Fargo.

  18. Brian says:

    I Wells Fargo caught on fire I would not pee on it to put it out after what they did to me.

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