It's a well-known fact that cannabis companies in the United States struggle to find financial institutions willing to work with them, due to the plant remaining illegal at the federal level. However, one bank has taken things a step further by closing the account of a Florida political candidate who merely signaled support for legal cannabis – a move that is causing controversy across the country.
Nikki Fried, a Democrat running for Florida's agricultural commissioner office, recently found her campaign's Wells Fargo account frozen and some believe its due to Ms. Fried's previous time spent lobbying for a more liberal approach to medical marijuana, which the state legalized in 2016. The bank had previously asked Ms. Fried if she would be receiving donations from “lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity,” to which the campaign replied positively.
"This is absolutely unprecedented," she said at a press conference. "I've been in this campaign since the beginning of June. Everybody in Florida knows that I'm one of the main proponents of the expansion of medical marijuana."
Wells Fargo officials state that they were just following protocol, a move that many see as paranoid overkill.
"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 spokesperson Bridget Braxton, in a statement. "We continually review our banking relationships to ensure we adhere to strict regulatory and risk guidelines."
Ms. Fried argues that the move was purely political and vows to take on the cannabis banking crisis if elected.
“I’m a candidate. I’m not touching a plant, I’m not selling a plant, I’m not producing a plant — I’m simply advocating for the expansion of medical marijuana, and that was the reason for closing me down,” she said. “I was specifically targeted.”
The candidate has since urged her supporters to pull their money from Wells Fargo in a show of solidarity. In a fundraising email to supporters, Ms. Fried's campaign said, “Close your Wells Fargo account as soon as you can. They don’t deserve your business.”
David Kani is a California based trial lawyer, author, and social commentator. Connect with David at [hidden email] or to book David to speak at your event, please contact [hidden email].