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Another bank closed Nikki Fried's campaign account because of medical marijuana

EVE EDELHEIT | TimesNicole Fried, candidate for commissioner of agriculture, poses for a portrait in the Tampa Bay Times office in St. Petersburg on Friday, July 13, 2018.
Published Sep. 6, 2018

MIAMI -- Nicole "Nikki" Fried's official campaign account has been terminated for the second time in three weeks, this time by banking giant BB&T.

Fried, a Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer, is the Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner. She is also one of the state's most prominent lobbyists for expanding access to medical marijuana. In 2016, Fried played a crucial role in the passing of HB 307, a bill relating to the use of medical marijuana for those with terminal illness.

On Aug. 29, BB&T called the Fried campaign to tell them that the campaign's bank account had to be closed within 30 days, campaign manager Alicia Stallworth said Thursday. On Aug. 31, the campaign received an email that said the campaign had to be closed on Sept. 5 — leaving just three business days.

Stallworth did not say to which bank the campaign has switched its account but said they plan to announce more details on Monday.

BB&T declined to comment on the specifics of the account closure but said the bank strictly follows federal law, which prohibits the use, sale and possession of all forms of cannabis.

"While BB&T has no position on the issue of marijuana or the ongoing discussion regarding its legalization, we must continue to abide by all applicable laws and regulations as a federally-regulated financial institution," spokesman David White wrote in a statement.

The pressure for banks in the state to shun medical marijuana business is high because Florida hosts more international customers and sees more potential instances of money laundering than the average state.

On Aug. 19, Wells Fargo closed Fried's campaign account in a similar manner, citing its 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," the bank said in a statement.

The bank gave Fried's campaign notice on Aug. 3 that they had 30 days to shut down the account. The campaign moved the account's $137,000 to the new account with BB&T.

Fried's campaign also closed its political committee's account with Wells Fargo in anticipation of another closure and sent a fundraising email asking voters to close their Wells Fargo accounts.

"They don't deserve your business," the email read.

Fried, 40, told the Herald/Times then that she feels like she was "specifically targeted" by the bank.

Federal data released in June shows that by the end of last March, 411 banks and credit unions across the country were "actively" banking with marijuana businesses.

If elected in November, Fried will serve in the Cabinet and therefore appoint the director of the Office of Financial Regulation, which oversees the state's banking industry.

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