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Wells Fargo stops banking with Nikki Fried over medical marijuana

TALLAHASSEE – Wells Fargo required Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, to move her campaign account funds to a different bank because of her advocacy and interaction with the medical marijuana industry.

Fried on Monday slammed the move, saying she will continue to support increased access to medical marijuana for patients in need.

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“They told me my account was being flagged because of my political platform,” Fried said during a news conference at the Capitol. She lists greater access to medical marijuana as one of the main issues of her campaign.

Many large banks have refused to do business with the burgeoning industry of legal marijuana. While some states have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes, it remains illegal under federal law to grow, sell or possess marijuana.

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“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,” Wells Fargo spokesman Michael Gray wrote in an emailed statement in which he did not answer a series of questions sent to the bank about the matter. “We continually review our banking relationships to ensure we adhere to strict regulatory and risk guidelines.”

Fried says Wells Fargo took it a step too far when it asked her end the banking relationship.

“I’m a candidate. I have a right to be heard,” Fried said. “I am not touching the plant, I am not selling the plant, I’m not producing the plant. I’m simply advocating for the expansion of medical marijuana.”

Fried provided emails, starting on July 11, from Wells Fargo employees asking if she would be receiving donations from the medical marijuana industry.

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“Can you confirm the types of transactions expected for this customer and if any of the transactions will include funds received from lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity?” Antoinette Infante, Wells Fargo senior relationship manager, wrote to Fried campaign treasurer Gloria Maggiolo.

After Fried campaign officials confirmed they would receive funds from the industry, and that Fried herself was a former lobbyist for the industry, the bank called on Aug. 3 to say the account would need to be closed. An Aug. 14 letter followed, giving the campaign 30 days to end the account.

The Fried campaign switched its funds to BB&T Bank. A political committee supporting Fried, Florida Consumers First, also switched its funds to BB&T.

As of Aug. 10, Fried’s campaign has received at least $7,500 from medical marijuana industry executives and employees, including $3,000 from Jake Bergmann, CEO of Surterra Wellness, one of the companies licensed by the state to sell marijuana for medical uses. Florida Consumers First has received $50,000, including $35,000 from Bergmann.

Fried said she hasn’t heard of any other candidate in the country having their bank suspend their account over medical marijuana industry donations. Since the race for Florida agriculture commissioner isn’t a high-profile race nationally, she suspects someone alerted the bank to the issue, but wouldn’t speculate who it was.

grohrer@orlandosentinel.com or (850) 222-5564

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