Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Published September 10 2018
Updated November 5 2018

Two banks have taken the retaliatory step of closing down the campaign account of a statewide candidate because she received contributions from the medical marijuana industry. Nikki Fried, the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, has been a prominent lobbyist for expanding access to medical cannabis and has made it her primary campaign plank. All of that is completely legal in Florida, and the banksí actions are paranoid or punitive. Either way, they are unjustified.

Wells Fargo was first, and after Fried moved her campaign account to BB&T, that bank followed suit. In closing her accounts, both institutions cited compliance with federal law, which still categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 banned substance, while claiming to have no position on the issue of legalization. The Miami Herald reported that banks in Florida are under extra scrutiny because of the stateís high number of international customers and potential for money laundering. Fair enough.

But it has been two years since Florida voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana for patients with chronic, debilitating illnesses. There is now a state-sanctioned network of growers, dispensers and distributors providing marijuana in numerous forms to more than 100,000 patients. Those participants, presumably, have bank accounts and there is no sign that the federal government is rounding up those business owners or patients on drug trafficking charges.

In June, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which protects the roughly three dozen states that have legal cannabis laws from federal interference. It also amends the Controlled Substances Act so that its provisions no longer apply to anyone acting in compliance with state laws relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution or delivery of marijuana. The new federal law, which passed with bipartisan support, is a significant stride toward accommodating the countryís evolving laws and attitudes about marijuana.

That makes the stance of Wells Fargo and BB&T seem like a jarring overreaction. Fried, 40, ran her own lobbying firm representing medical marijuana interests and is now campaigning on the agriculture commissionerís role in helping shape this growing industry. She has received campaign contributions from a marijuana doctors group and the CEO of a company with dispensaries in Florida. The STATES Act protects the entities that made the contributions, so itís a real stretch for banks to crack down on the recipient of them.

Medical marijuana has not had a smooth ramp-up in Florida. Multiple lawsuits have challenged the rules on growing and using medical pot, and patient access is still not what it should be. Friedís account closures are another obstacle to bringing this new industry into the mainstream, and a candidate for statewide office from a major political party should not have to put up with such nonsense.

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