Banking

Wells Fargo cites federal marijuana laws in closing candidate’s account

Nikki Fried, Florida commissioner of agriculture candidate
Nikki Fried, Florida commissioner of agriculture candidate cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

Wells Fargo said Wednesday it was seeking to comply with federal law when it terminated the official campaign account of a candidate for Florida agriculture commissioner.

In an unusual move, the San Francisco-based bank issued a press release to address recent news coverage on its decision to close the campaign account of Nicole “Nikki” Fried.

Wells Fargo, whose largest employment hub is in Charlotte, said in its statement that as a federally regulated national bank, it must comply with federal law on the issue of marijuana, even in instances where state laws may differ.

Since federal law bans the sale and use of marijuana, Wells said it may not knowingly provide services to marijuana businesses or for related activities.

“In recent days, there have been assertions that Wells Fargo elected to close an account in Florida because of our presumed political viewpoint regarding medical marijuana,” the bank said. “That assertion is completely false. The company has no political position on the matter.”

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The press release is a rare example of Wells widely distributing an official statement in response to news coverage. The move follows national media reports this week of the Florida action.

Wells terminated the account after it discovered Fried has a “political platform ... advocating for expanded patient access to medical marijuana” and she had “funds received from lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry,” according to correspondence with Wells Fargo and provided by the campaign.

The campaign received an Aug. 3 letter saying it had 30 days to close the account, according to records. Matt Gotha, a consultant for Fried’s campaign for agriculture commissioner, said they closed the account Saturday and transferred its roughly $137,000 to BB&T.

At a news conference in Tallahassee on Monday, Fried, a Democrat, said the decision was “totally unprecedented” and another example of “the failures of our laws, institutions, [and] politicians to respect patients and doctors [and] the will of the voters.”

In Florida, voters approved medical marijuana in 2016.

“While we recognize that resolving the differences between federal and state laws on this matter has become an industry problem, we make these decisions based on the requirements of federal law and not because of any political view on the topic,” Wells said in its statement.

Wells has about 25,100 workers in the Charlotte metro area.

The Miami Herald contributed.

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