Nikki Fried—a Democrat running to be Florida's next Agriculture Commissioner—needs to find a new bank for her campaign funds. Wells Fargo—citing Fried's vocal support for medical marijuana—notified her office any bank accounts affiliated with Fried's campaign would be closed within 30 days of August 3, 2018.
In a July 11, 2018 email, representative of Wells Fargo—fourth largest bank in the United States—Antoinette Infante, a vice president and senior relationship manager, wrote:
"As part of the onboarding of the client it was uncovered some information regarding the customers [sic] political platform and that they are advocating for expanding patient access to medical marijuana."
Fried's campaign verified she indeed did support the use of medical cannabis and intended to continue to support it. In response, Wells Fargo—in a letter dated August 3—stated:
"Periodically, we review our account relationships as part of our responsibility to oversee and manage banking risks. As a result of a recent review of your account relationship, we determined that we need to discontinue our business relationship and close the account above within 30 days from the date of this letter."
Nikki Fried made her strong support for medical marijuana very clear in her campaign materials posted on her campaign homepage and all of Fried's social media accounts: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
Watch the Nikki Fried for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services video below:
Because of the federal level prohibition against marijuana use for any reason, many banking institutions refuse to accept legal marijuana industry companies as customers. They fear suffering negative repercussions from the federal government.
However 30 states and Washington DC passed laws making medical cannabis legal. In addition, eight states and the District of Columbia adopted laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Florida law currently allows limited legal use of medical marijuana. Fried hopes to expand those limitations and because of that, Wells Fargo declared her campaign funds unwelcome at their bank.
On Monday, Fried urged supporters to consider boycotting Wells Fargo for their decision to reject her campaign's business. Fried stated:
"This is absolutely unprecedented. I've been in this campaign since the beginning of June. Everybody in Florida knows that I'm one of the main proponents of the expansion of medical marijuana."
Christian Bax who served as Florida's medical marijuana director until August 10 commented:
"If a bank is going to start drawing a line based on a candidate’s particular advocacy, where does a bank draw that line? Is it going to extend to every candidate in Florida who advocates for medical marijuana?"
Well Fargo specifically targeted Fried because of her vocal support for expanded medical cannabis access, but in the interest of fairness, should they not also question every other campaign doing business with them? Wells Fargo asked Fried's campaign in their email dated July 11 to verify her support for medical marijuana.
Have they sent similar missives to all campaigns that use their banks? If they fail to do so, is it discrimination?
In legal terms, discrimination requires disparate treatment. Disparate treatment means two or more individuals or groups falling under the same circumstances—in this case campaigns with bank accounts with Wells Fargo—receive different treatment—one is questioned about their campaign platform while others are not.
In an official statement addressing only general policy, not Fried's specific situation, Wells Fargo spokesperson Bridget Braxton asserted:
"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."
Wells Fargo may not want to risk doing business with a candidate that supports the expansion of the existing medical marijuana laws in Florida, but can they afford the public relations black eye?
If social media users accurately indicate public opinion, Fried won the public perception battle with Wells Fargo as the following Twitter posts expressing support show.
Wells Fargo suffered boycotts and protests for their continuing support of the Dakota Access Pipeline beginning in 2016. Also in 2016, Wells Fargo paid record breaking fines related to their business practices, but not because of doing business with the legal marijuana industry. Their scandals involved fake customer accounts and predatory lending.
Fred Guttenberg—who lives in Florida and whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died when a mass shooter attacked a school in Parkland and murdered 17 people—contacted Wells Fargo over their decision.
Other current candidates as well as active and retired politicians voiced their support for Fried.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Wells Fargo issued no further statements regarding their decision.