Even though allowing medical marijuana use is the law of the land in Florida and 30 other states, access to basic financial services for those in the burgeoning industry is nonexistent. That’s something that Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried says needs to change.
“Let’s take a new approach with forward thinking laws,” Fried said on Monday on a conference call to Florida media.
It’s now becoming personal for Fried. She had her official campaign account terminated by BB&T last week based on her advocacy for expanding patient access to medical pot. It’s the second bank that’s rejected Fried in the past month.
In August, Wells Fargo closed her campaign account, saying that it had “uncovered some information regarding the customer’s political platform and that they are advocating for expanded patient access to medical marijuana.”
“This unnecessary action directly underscores the dire need for medical policy reform on the federal level,” Fried said. “Even after thirty-one states, Washington DC, Guam and Puerto Rico have legalized medical marijuana, access to basic financial services for caregivers and producers is still almost impossible.”
Fried said on Monday that she has been consulting with other banks and credit unions, and intends to soon move her campaign account to one of those institutions.
A Fort Lauderdale attorney, Fried says that she is unaware of anything similar happening to any other politician or political candidate who espouses support for medical marijuana.
Despite the fact that it’s now legal for medical purposes in more than half the country and legal to consume on a recreational basis in eight states, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a “Schedule 1” drug, similar to heroin. Banks that handle marijuana proceeds canbe charged with money laundering.
Because of that chasm between Washington and the states, St. Petersburg Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist recently introduced federal legislation that would prevent a federal employee from being fired solely for using weed legally according to their state laws.
“This is causing real harm to real people,” Crist said on the call. “Not just in Florida, but nationwide.”
The congressman said that what has happened to Fried is reminder of the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws.
“We must make clear financial institutions serving marijuana-related businesses will be protected and that states have the right to direct their own marijuana programs without federal interference,” said Crist.
Fried is running against Republican Matt Caldwell in the race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, and her issues with her banking institutions have brought national attention to her candidacy.
With 71 percent of the electorate supporting medical marijuana in 2016, it’s a winning position to take, and Fried is the rare Democratic party candidate who is championing the issue.
She’s also having some fun with it. In a fundraising email sent just before the August 28 primary, she called on supporters to contribute $4.20 to her campaign.
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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.