The trouble with legal marijuana money

By: - January 2, 2019 4:26 pm
marijuana plant

Marijuana plant

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried isn’t the only supporter of medical marijuana in state politics who has been forced to find alternative ways to maintain campaign cash after being rejected by a financial institution.

Pasco County marijuana activist Gary Stein is now looking for another provider to handle transactions associated with Clarity PAC, the political action committee he formed last summer to support pro-marijuana candidates and influence legislation.

Last month, Stein was informed by Stripe, a San Francisco-based payment processor, that it was  dropping Clarify PAC as a client because it is a “cannabis-related business.”

“I told them that we’re not handling any (marijuana) product, and so we fit within their guidelines,” Stein objected.

But Stein says that Stripe officials told him that its existing policy “does not currently allow us to support any businesses that are related to the marijuana industry – this includes businesses and organizations that are not directly selling marijuana or CBD, and are instead providing information and resources to individuals who may be using marijuana.”

During her successful campaign for agriculture commissioner, Democrat Fried received campaign contributions from cannabis businesses. Two different banks terminated her campaign accounts, citing a need to comply with federal law, which classifies marijuana as an illegal drug.

Fried and other Florida Democrats have subsequently been talking up the concept of creating a state-run bank to handle medicinal marijuana money.

North Dakota is currently the only state in the country that is in the actual banking business. In 1919, state leaders created an institution initially to serve farmers and small businesses who felt they weren’t getting fair treatment from commercial banks. The state, and not the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, ensures Bank of North Dakota’s deposits.

Supporters pushing to create a public bank for the marijuana industry in California received a blow last week, however, when a much anticipated feasibility study reported that it would take at least six years to set up  a cannabis bank and couldn’t happen  without the federal government’s approval.

Stripe has been valued at $20 billion, and it handles payments for such Silicon Valley giants as Amazon, Facebook and Lyft, according to Wired magazine. The company  did not respond to a request for comment.

Stein is a frequent presence in Tallahassee advocating for the liberalization of marijuana laws. He’s currently contemplating a run for a Florida House seat in eastern Pasco County that likely will open up soon. The incumbent, Republican Danny Burgess, was recently recommended by Governor-elect Ron DeSantis to serve as the head of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

Stein says that the financial industry’s fear of engaging in the marijuana industry means companies and investors are  losing out “big-time.”

“This is going to be a billion-dollar industry in each state, so they are not forward-thinking,” he predicts. “They’re going to have to change their minds eventually.”

He adds that those wanting to contribute to his PAC can still do so through PayPal.










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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.