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Miami Herald: In wake of bank account closures, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist joins Nikki Fried in call for marijuana policy reform

After her ties to the medical marijuana industry led to two different banks shutting down her campaign account, Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner is calling for change.

Nicole “Nikki” Fried teamed up with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist Monday morning in a call for reform of federal medical marijuana policy. Fried, a Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer, is one of the state’s most prominent lobbyists for expanding access to medical marijuana.

During a call Monday morning, Fried and Crist used the account closures to underscore their stance on protecting state programs from federal interference.

Fried’s official campaign account was terminated twice in the past few weeks — once by Wells Fargo and once by BB&T.

Both banks maintain that federal policy — which prohibits the use, sale and possession of all forms of cannabis — trumps state law when it comes to marijuana-related contributions in bank accounts.

Fried said that the account closures, which both happened in a span of three weeks just two months before election day, put her campaign in “an extremely tough position.”

“This unnecessary action directly underscores the dire need for marijuana policy reform on the federal level,” she said. “[Bank account closures] happen in the medical marijuana businesses daily.”

A review of Fried’s campaign finances shows a $1,000 donation from Savara Hastings, executive director of the Florida-based American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association and $3,000 from Jake Bergman, CEO and founder of Atlanta-based Surterra Holdings LLC, which intends to become a national medical marijuana business.

Fried said that since her account closures made national news last week, her campaign has been approached by other state-chartered credit institutions who have “offered an olive branch.”

“The silver lining is that it became a national issue,” she said.

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. She said that she is being targeted by banks because of her role as a vocal advocate for medical marijuana.

Crist said that what happened to Fried is a reminder of conflicts that have yet to be resolved between the state and federal laws.

In June, Crist sponsored the “STATES Act,” a bipartisan piece of legislation that addresses such conflicts between federal law and law in states where medical marijuana is legal. The bill was supported by 95 members of Congress.

“What has happened to Nikki is an unfortunate reminder of the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws, highlighting an urgent need for action,” he said. “The STATES Act gives each state the best approach to marijuana policy without fear of federal interference.”

If she wins in November, Fried said she would go to Washington, D.C. to lobby on behalf of Florida citizens. She also has goals to work with the Chief Financial Officer’s office to create policy that would protect banks and create a state bank that could house money from medical marijuana companies and patients in one location.

“We have over-regulation of medical marijuana in our state, and under-regulation of weapons,” she said. “I believe Tallahassee is broken and our priorities need to be realigned.”

Fried is running against North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell, an eight-year veteran of the Florida House.

By Samantha Gross

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