Wells Fargo Closed Florida Candidate's Bank Account After She Said She'd Take Donations From The Cannabis Industry
One of the largest banks in the United States, Wells Fargo, has shut down the campaign account of Florida political candidate Nikki Fried (D). The reason? She said she'd be willing to accept campaign donations from the cannabis industry.
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Fried is running to be Florida's agriculture commissioner and has a long history of supporting the marijuana industry. She has worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the industry and has been outspoken in her support for cannabis. Prior to running for the position, she ran the lobbying firm Igniting Florida, which describes Fried on its website as "one of the most visible faces and key activists in Florida's burgeoning medical cannabis industry."
According to documents released by Fried's campaign, their campaign account was opened with Wells Fargo on June 13. On August 3, Wells Fargo notified the campaign its account was being terminated due to Fried's "relationship to the medical marijuana industry." A formal notice followed, which stated that "as part of our responsibility to oversee and manage banking risks", the account was being shut down.
Wells Fargo declined to comment specifically on Fried's campaign account but stated that its policy does not allow for ties to the cannabis 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," said spokeswoman, Bridget Braxton.
United States banks have thus far made sure to distance themselves from the cannabis industry, despite a growing number of states legalizing weed for either medical or recreational use. The cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the US but faces numerous financial hurdles due to the unwillingness of banks to handle cannabis-related funds. At the retail level, many dispensaries are not able to accept credit cards, resulting in large amounts of cash being kept on site, making dispensaries a target for robberies.
At the federal level, cannabis remains illegal in the United States. The federal government's stance on banks handling legitimate cannabis funds is still unclear, forcing many banks to opt out of the marijuana industry entirely. In 2014, the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network provided a checklist for banks on things to look out for when providing services to legal cannabis businesses. Under Obama, the Cole Memo prohibited federal intervention in cannabis affairs in legal states, however, the memo was rescinded at the beginning of this year, causing worry and confusion for the legal cannabis industry.
Despite the lack of guidance from the federal government, it seems Wells Fargo stands alone in its stance on Fried's campaign. Representatives for Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase have stated that their banks' policies would not prevent them from offering their services to Fried's campaign. BB&T has now taken over Fried's account, demonstrating that some banks seem to be open to working with cannabis advocates, a least in the political arena. It remains to be seen whether a formal process for cannabis businesses looking to work with mainstream banks will emerge in the future.
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