Democrats call for state-run bank for medical marijuana industry

It may be legal in Florida, but patients like Gena Lederhandler say it’s still not easy or cheap to get their medicinal marijuana prescriptions filled.  The reason: the payment method.

"You have to have cash,” said Lederhandler. "It's not just the cash to buy the items, it's the cash to obtain the Florida green card and to keep up with having the Florida green card."

That doesn’t just go for the patients but the companies as well who often have to do everything in cash from transactions to paying their employees.  It’s not just a problem for Florida’s medical marijuana industry, but one most states with some form of legal pot have reported dealing with.

“It’s still federally illegal and the banks are backed by FDIC," said Democratic candidate for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried. “Most of our banks across the country are feeling that if they start taking cash in from some of these businesses, which is still federally illegal, they could get shutdown."

So Fried’s made changing that one of her top topics on the campaign trail, and one several Orlando Democrats joined her in calling for Tuesday morning. 

They want the creation of a state-run bank to handle medicinal marijuana money.  Fried said it would allow for the industry to operate more cost effectively and allow better access for patients.

Additionally, lawmakers said Tuesday that it would open up the industry to others wanting to enter the business but who are in need of loans and assistance. 

"We want small businesses to be able to enter the medical cannabis industry,” said State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.

However, it would put the state into this banking position; not an ideal scenario for some.
Fried’s opponent in the November election, Matthew Caldwell said Tuesday that the situation should be handled at the federal level. In an email statement, Caldwell said:

“As the only candidate for statewide office that has actually helped pass legislation legalizing medical cannabis, I take this issue seriously.  I have consistently supported efforts by Congressman Matt Gaetz to change cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 at the federal level, which would allow for university research and alleviate problems for the medical and financial participants in this market.  Only a true liberal, like my opponent, thinks you solve a problem created by government bureaucracy by creating more government bureaucracy.”

Fried disagrees though, saying that waiting on the federal government isn’t solving the problem.

"We cannot wait for DC to handle this. This is a Florida problem, this needs a Florida issue,” said Fried. "The reality is: we have no other option." 

Lederhandler and several other patients at Tuesday’s rally agreed, saying that the current situation is only making legal medical marijuana users feel like criminals. Additionally, Lederhandler, who cash-strapped and on disability with MS, Lupus, and other issues, said the current setup is often forcing her to take the cheaper, though illegal route.

"Having cash and having to give cash to the stores or cash to someone on the streets: it's the same thing and the streets will offer me a better discount,” she said adding that the smokable drug there is not what she wants to choose. “I’m a mom, I don’t have time to be high.”