Wells Fargo Cancels Commissioner of Agriculture Candidate's Account for Medical Marijuana Support

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Democratic candidate for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried is an outspoken supporter of medical marijuana.

“That has been my primary motivation for embarking on this campaign," said Fried.

Fried says that support resulted in her campaign's checking account with Wells Fargo being canceled.

“These actions by Wells Fargo are totally unprecedented and crystallize the reason why I chose to run for office," said Fried. "The failures of our laws, institutions, politicians to respect patients and doctors, the will of the voters.”

In an email exchange between a Wells Fargo representative and Fried’s team, the bank asked for Fried to clarify if she had or planned to receive any contributions from medical marijuana lobbyists.

Fried, a former lobbyist for the industry herself, confirmed and was notified her account would be closed.

Wells Fargo issued a statement regarding the closure of Fried’s account, “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. We continually review our banking relationships to ensure we adhere to strict regulatory and risk guidelines."

While Fried says she was able to move her funds into a new account with BB&T, medical marijuana treatment centers and others who do business in the industry simply don’t have that option.

“Their accounts are no longer accepted. They're being put on notice and so a safe compliant banking system is needed," said Taylor Beihl with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.

A west coast bank called GRN Funds is looking to fill the vacancy. Fried says if elected, she's interested in the possibility of helping the bank move in.

“I will certainly have a conversation with them and see what I can do to get them access here," said Fried.

Fried says while she can’t say for sure if Wells Fargo acted illegally, her team will be looking into the matter and may take legal action if they deem it necessary.


Saying ‘YES’ to Marijuana Money, New Bank comes to Florida

Where the big banks say no, Justin Costello is saying ‘yes.’

Foreseeing “a multibillion-dollar industry here,” the head of Seattle-based GRN Funds says his firm has come to Florida to offer banking services to the state’s medical marijuana providers.

It already handles about $500 million in deposits for clients in the cannabis industry on the West Coast.

Costello, its chairman and CEO, was in Tallahassee last week to meet with state financial regulators “strictly as a courtesy.” (His firm is not regulated by the state, he says.)

Accompanying him on that visit was Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, “facilitating an introduction to state policymakers,” as Sharkey put it.

“We just wanted to let them know what’s happening,” said Sharkey, who also operates the Capitol Alliance Group. “We thought it important that they understand the right way to do this … There are millions of dollars in cash going around out there.”

Costello says he already has nine marijuana banking clients signed up in Florida, whom he couldn’t name because of confidentiality regulations.

Medical marijuana providers around the country have been vexed by how to handle their money.

The big banks won’t do business with them; as The New York Times explained earlier this year, “selling marijuana violates federal law; handling the proceeds of any marijuana transaction is considered to be money laundering.”

Put another way, “while banks would love to tap into the growing market, concerns remain about how to reconcile such activities given that the possession and sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal” law, write attorneys Craig D. Miller and Anita L. Boomstein with the Manatt Phelps & Phillips law firm.

That’s led marijuana vendors keeping thousands, even millions, of dollars in cash in self-storage warehouses. Costello would like to take marijuana out of the cash-in-a-duffel-bag business model.

He worked with Chris Johnson, CEO of Integrated Compliance Solutions of Las Vegas, which specializes in “cannabis regulatory compliance software.”

The trick is being able to track every transaction, big and small, to avoid any perception of laundering. Providers, for instance, have to show sales are only to those with a Florida medical marijuana patient ID card.

“It’s all about transparency,” Johnson said. “We take every single thing that’s sold in the retail store and ensure what gets deposited in the bank is traced back, seed to bank, legally to the entity.”

The Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which regulates the drug in Florida, is required to have its own statewide “seed to sale” tracking system but has not yet selected a vendor.

“It’s funny: A lot of cannabis people lived a cowboy life and don’t trust the system,” Costello said. “You have to engage with them until it becomes a close business relationship.”


New Bank Wants to Offer Services to Florida Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers

https://youtu.be/9HfNhEuT4Sg

Pensacola, Fla. ((WEAR-TV) — Medical Marijuana is a cash cow.

One Florida license recently sold for $55 million dollars.

However, many in the business haven’t had a place to bank since First Green Bank, the only bank willing to handle their money, dropped all of it clients last December.

“This is a real public safety issue with all this cash, not just in Florida, all over the country, swirling around. People can't pay their taxes, they're paying everything, payroll in cash,” said Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.

Because medical marijuana remains illegal under Federal law, most banks won’t do business with dispensaries

In the absence of First Green Bank, Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers have turned to alternative ways of doing business.

The most common is a closed-loop system where patients use cash to load cards that are then used to purchase products.

“Without any options, MMTC's are trying their best to make it a safe and secure transaction point of sale,” said Sharkey.

MMTC’s are supposed to report all transactions with the federal government, but without backing from a bank, it’s nearly impossible to do so.

Now a new company has its eyes on Florida’s budding industry.

Seattle-based GRN Funds is looking to fill the vacancy the First Green Bank left open.

“We're providing traditional banking services. It's a little bit different than what's going on currently with the closed-loop systems,” GRN Funds CEO Justin Costello.

GRN Funds operates in five states.

The company serves more than 300 accounts.

Costello says it would operate much like First Green Bank did, helping legitimize the industry.

“We're trying to get the professional services around the industry to help the industry to assimilate into regular business,” said Costello.

GRN Funds says it plans to begin offering its services to Florida MMTC’s in the near future.