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Wells Fargo Closes Florida Politician’s Account Due To Marijuana Donations

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It’s well known that many banks are reluctant to open accounts for marijuana businesses out of fear of running afoul of the U.S’s government’s continued criminalization of the drug.

But one major institution just took the financial services industry’s cannabis cash paranoia a step further, saying—in what appears to be a first—that it won’t do business with a political candidate because she has received donations from cannabis industry interests.

Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest bank in the U.S., fired Florida agriculture commissioner candidate Nikki Fried as a client this month because her campaign has received donations from “lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry,” according to copies of emails her campaign made public on Monday.

“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,” Antoinette Infante, a vice president and senior relationship manager at Wells Fargo, wrote in a July 11 email to the Fried campaign’s compliance officer.

Wells Fargo email

After the campaign confirmed in a reply that Fried has indeed received contributions from cannabis industry leaders—and had no intention of stopping—Wells Fargo confirmed the closure of the account in an August 3 letter.

“Periodically, we review our account relationships as part of our responsibility to oversee and manage banking risks,” the letter said. “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.”

Wells Fargo letter

If the move represents a new companywide policy—whether or not it spreads to other banking institutions—it could have implications for dozens of members of Congress and other politicians who regularly accept campaign contributions from people involved in the marijuana industry.

It could also affect the bank accounts for campaign committees and nonprofit groups working to advocate for marijuana policy change through legislatures and via ballot measures.

“This is yet another clear signal to Congress that they need to address the banking issue for the cannabis industry,” Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a statement. “It is absurd enough that state-regulated businesses are being denied standard banking services, but it is absolutely ludicrous that political candidates and nonprofit advocacy organizations are also being affected. There is no rational reason for Congress to go another session without fixing this growing problem, which has serious societal implications.”

MPP itself had its account closed by PNC Bank last year.

Fried, a Democrat, held a press conference at the Florida capitol on Monday morning to “address this arbitrary, unprecedented action against the fundamental rights to speech of a candidate for public office, and call attention to the out of touch institutions, laws and politicians that allowed this transgression to occur in the first place,” according to a news advisory.

In an email on Monday afternoon, Michael H. Gray, a Wells Fargo assistant vice president for corporate communications defended the company’s move.

“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,” he said. “We continually review our banking relationships to ensure we adhere to strict regulatory and risk guidelines.”

When asked if that meant the company would be canceling the accounts of members of Congress who bank with Wells Fargo, Gray responded, “The policy applies to everyone.”

Because of ongoing federal marijuana prohibition, many banks have remained wary about working with marijuana businesses, even as a growing number of states move to legalize the drug for recreational or medical purposes.

But Wells Fargo’s move appears to be the first time a financial institution has denied banking services to a candidate for public office as a result of donations from the cannabis industry.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in November 2016, but its implementation has been slow and contentious as advocates and state officials battle over issues such as a ban on smoking the drug.

While Fried would not have significant oversight of medical marijuana issues if elected as commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, she has regularly mentioned the issue during the course of her campaign.

“There is no clearer example of our broken government than medical marijuana,” she said in video announcing her candidacy.

https://twitter.com/nikkifried/status/1023569939519684608/

Fried herself was a medical cannabis lobbyist prior to running for office.

Despite the fears that many banks have about working with the marijuana industry, recent federal data shows that a growing number of financial institutions are actively opening and maintaining accounts for cannabis businesses.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Illinois Will ‘Blow Past’ $1 Billion In Legal Marijuana Sales In 2021, Chamber Of Commerce President Says

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“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” the Chamber leader said.

By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

Illinois’s cannabis industry is growing up fast, with adult-use recreational cannabis sales expected to hit $1 billion by year-end.

In March alone, Illinoisans spent $110 million on recreational marijuana.

Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said one factor contributing to Illinois’ explosive growth is that most neighboring states haven’t legalized marijuana yet.

“What we saw early on in states like Washington and Colorado is they did have demand come in from surrounding states, which frankly benefits our industry and benefits the taxes collected,” Maisch said.

Cannabis sales have already surpassed alcohol’s tax revenues for the state, and Maisch said he thinks $1 billion estimates are conservative.

“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” Maisch said.

There are only a couple of things that could stop Illinois’ explosive cannabis market growth, Maisch said. He said that policymakers could ruin things by pushing taxes too high as evidenced by the tobacco market.

“As taxes have gone up and up and up, they’ve pushed people all the way into the black market or they’ve created this grey market in which people are ostensibly paying some of the taxes, but they’re still getting sources of tobacco products that avoid much of the tax,” Maisch said.

The other thing that could head off continued growth is other states opening up recreational-use markets.

“So if you start to see surrounding states go to recreational, that’s definitely going to flatten the curve because we’re not going to be pulling in demand from other states,” Maisch said.

Maisch points out some concerns that accompany the explosion of Illinois’s recreational cannabis market including workforce preparedness.

“All of those individuals who are deciding to go ahead and consume this product are really taking themselves out of a lot of job opportunities that they would otherwise be qualified, so there’s a real upside and a downside,” Maisch said.

While it’s easy to track the revenues this industry brings into state coffers, he points out, it will be harder to track the lack of productivity and qualified individuals to operate heavy machinery and other jobs that require employees to pass a drug test.

This story was first published by The Center Square.

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Missouri Regulators Derail Medical Marijuana Business Ownership Disclosure Effort With Veto Threat

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Missouri regulators say they feel requiring medical marijuana business license ownership disclosures under a House-approved amendment could be unconstitutional, and they may urge the governor to veto the legislation. 

By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent

An effort by lawmakers to require disclosure of ownership information for businesses granted medical marijuana licenses was derailed on Thursday, when state regulators suggested a possible gubernatorial veto.

On Tuesday, the Missouri House voted to require the Department of Health and Senior Services provide legislative oversight committees with records regarding who owns the businesses licensed to grow, transport and sell medical marijuana.

The provision was added as an amendment to another bill pertaining to nonprofit organizations.

Its sponsor, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said DHSS’s decision to deem ownership records confidential has caused problems in providing oversight of the program. He pointed to recent analysis by The Independent and The Missourian of the 192 dispensary licenses issued by the state that found several instances where a single entity was connected to more than five dispensary licenses.

The state constitution prohibits the state from issuing more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management.

On Thursday, a conference committee met to work out differences in the underlying bill between the House and Senate.

Sen. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Battlefield and the bill’s sponsor, called the medical marijuana amendment an “awesome idea. I think it’s awesome.”

However, he said opposition from the department puts the entire bill in jeopardy.

“The department came to me,” he said, “and said they felt that this was unconstitutional.”

DHSS has justified withholding information from public disclosure by pointing to a portion of the medical marijuana constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2018 that says the department shall “maintain the confidentiality of reports or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individualized data, information, or records related to the licensee or its operation… .”

Alex Tuttle, a lobbyist for DHSS, said if the bill were to pass with the medical marijuana amendment still attached, the department may recommend Gov. Mike Parson veto it.

The threat of a veto proved persuasive, as several members of the conference committee expressed apprehension about the idea of the amendment sinking the entire bill.

Merideth said the department’s conclusion is incorrect. And besides, he said, the amendment is narrowly tailored so that the information wouldn’t be made public. It would only be turned over to legislative oversight committees.

Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, chairman of the special committee on government oversight, said the amendment is essential to ensure state regulators “are following the constitution, that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

The medical marijuana program has faced intense scrutiny in the two years since it was created by voters.

A House committee spent months looking into widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations of conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications.

In November 2019, DHSS received a grand jury subpoena, which was issued by the United States District Court for the Western District. It demanded the agency turn over all records pertaining to four medical marijuana license applications.

The copy of the subpoena that was made public redacted the identity of the four applicants at the request of the FBI. Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana regulation, later said during a deposition that the subpoena wasn’t directed at the department but rather was connected to an FBI investigation center in Independence.

More recently, Parson faced criticism for a fundraiser with medical marijuana business owners for his political action committee, Uniting Missouri.

The group reported raising $45,000 in large donations from the fundraiser. More than half of that money came from a PAC connected to Steve Tilley, a lobbyist with numerous medical marijuana clients who has been under FBI scrutiny for more than a year.

This story was first published by Missouri Independent.

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Colorado Sold More Than Half A Billion Dollars In Legal Marijuana In 2021’s First Three Months

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More than $10.5 billion in cannabis has been sold in Colorado since it was legalized in 2014. Those sales translate into over $1.7 billion in tax revenue that goes towards public schools, infrastructure projects and local government programs.

By Robert Davis, The Center Square

Colorado’s marijuana sales eclipsed the half-billion dollar mark in the first quarter of 2021, the state Department of Revenue (DOR) said on Tuesday.

In all, marijuana sales were over $560 million between January and March. More than $10.5 billion in marijuana has been sold in Colorado since it was legalized in 2014.

Those sales translate into over $1.7 billion in tax revenue that goes towards public schools, infrastructure projects and local government programs.

DOR compiles its monthly marijuana sales report by adding the state’s medical and recreational sales together. The total does not include marijuana accessories or any products that do not contain medical marijuana.

Marijuana sales reached $207 million in the month of March alone. In exchange, the state collected $39.6 million in taxes.

Marijuana tax revenue is collected through three state taxes: a 2.9 percent sales tax on marijuana sold in stores, a 15 percent tax on retail marijuana and a 15 percent retail marijuana excise tax.

State law requires 71 percent of the total to be remitted to the marijuana tax cash fund, a budget account that is statutorily required to fund health care, health education, substance abuse prevention and treatment programs and law enforcement.

The remaining 29 percent is then subdivided between the state public school fund and the general fund. Schools receive just over 12 percent of the total while the general fund receives greater than 15 percent.

In April, the public school fund received over $14 million. The account supports school construction projects and is controlled by the School Board Investment Fund, a three-member panel responsible for maintaining the fund’s capital that was established in 2016.

Meanwhile, the marijuana tax cash fund received over $16 million and the general fund received $3.5 million.

This story was first published by The Center Square.

Congressional Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana Filed By Republican Lawmakers

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