Cerabino: Will Florida take high road by establishing marijuana banks?

Sept 12, 2018
Illustration by Mark Buzek / The Palm Beach Post

I’ve been trying to conceptualize a state-sponsored bank for marijuana providers in Florida.

This started with Nicole “Nikki” Fried, who is running as the Democratic candidate for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

Fried is a lawyer and medicinal marijuana lobbyist who has had a tough time dealing with traditional banks due to their reluctance to do business with the state-sanctioned marijuana trade, because its potential conflict with federal anti-money-laundering regulations.

While running in last month’s primary, Fried had her campaign account terminated by Wells Fargo. So she switched to BB&T, which also dropped her as a customer due to her connection to marijuana businesses, which began operating after voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment in 2016 that legalized medicinal marijuana in Florida.

If Fried gets elected in November, she expressed interest in working with the state’s chief financial officer to find a new banking solution for the legal cannabis business.

“I have also brought up the opportunity for the state of Florida to actually open up its own bank for this industry,” Fried told reporters during a Tallahassee news conference last month.

Right now, we’re just talking about medicinal marijuana. But it’s not hard to imagine that Florida one day will head in the direction that nine other states have already gone by legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

John Morgan, the Orlando lawyer who bankrolled the push for medicinal marijuana in Florida, already has set a timetable for full legalization in the state.

“I’m going to look at starting a fund where we all can donate to get full marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2020,” Morgan tweeted over the summer. “The cannabis industry is well funded now. Money won’t be a problem.”

And if its fully legalized, the marijuana business is going to require a lot of banking services.

This makes Fried’s idea to get a state-sanctioned marijuana bank up and running an important first step in establishing marijuana banks across the state once it becomes a lucrative industry.

So I’ve been thinking about what to call Florida’s marijuana bank, coming up with the various new instruments and services involved, and figuring out how different the vibe in this bank might be to existing banks.

Not to mention the changes to banking lingo.

For example, I guess there could be just one person on a joint checking account in a marijuana bank. See what I mean?

Will the debit card be replaced by the doobie card?

Deposits in marijuana banks may no longer be insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which would mean the state would have to create its own FDIC — Florida Dudes Into Chronic — insurance.

And speaking of deposits, tellers may need to learn the difference between EFTs (electronic fund transfers) and EFCs (edibles for concerts).

Making the transition from Bank of America to Bong of America, or from Mellon Bank to Mellow Bank, will take some adjustments. And I’m not just talking about the branches all closing early at 4:20 p.m.

It may also be necessary, in order to prevent confusion in the marketplace, to require traditional existing banks to change their color schemes and/or names.

This is especially so for TD Bank, with is marijuana-green sign and initials that practically shout out “totally dank!”

Tellers at marijuana banks will have to be trained for a new set of challenges, such as being aware that when customers mention a “phishing attempt,” they may not be talking about a breach in online security, but instead be hashing out a plan to go to Burning Man to see their favorite jam band.