The BoE board member and cannabis industry banking advocate is running for California State Treasurer in 2018.
LOS ANGELES – A small but enthusiastic group of supporters gathered at the lush Hollywood Hills residence of Advanced Nutrient’s Michael “BigMike” Straumietis late yesterday afternoon for a fundraising event in support of Fiona Ma, the 51-year-old Democrat from San Francisco who currently serves as an elected member of the California Board of Equalization. When the current State Treasurer, John Chiang, announced in May his intention to run for governor next year, Ma jumped at the opportunity to succeed him.
“I immediately said that I want to be the next banker, the next treasurer of California, because I want to be able to actively work on this [cannabis] issue,” Ma told the gathering. “I want to be out front on it and push the federal government. If the federal government does not want to help us or cooperate with us, then California needs to go it alone, or maybe we need to combine with the 23 states that have passed medicinal and the seven that have passed legal.”
A former member of both the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the State Assembly, Ma, a licensed CPA, has held elected office since 2002. During that entire time, she said, cannabis was somewhere in the picture. In the city, the Board simply worked to help patients get the medicine they needed, while at the state level the subject never came up. It wasn’t until she got to the BoE in 2015 that she realized there was a problem.
“We had no idea how much tax we were getting from cannabis,” she told the gathering. The problem was not that most dispensary owners didn’t want to pay their taxes, but the obstacles they faced trying to pay them.
“The elephant in the room was lack of banking access,” she explained. “A new industry that cannot access banking? This felt un-American.”
A light bulb went off in her head. “I started trying to figure out how to bank the industry,” she said. “What are the rules around the federal government? Why do we have to have a federal charter? Why can’t we start a state bank in California? We’ve been taking money at the Board of Equalization for 20 years. Why can’t we take more money at the Board of Equalization? No one’s coming to arrest us, saying we’re money launderers. We are the biggest money-launderer in the country, as far as I’m concerned.”
Ma has received the endorsement of several state leaders, including California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, California Assembly Speaker Emeritus John A. Perez, Willie Brown, Congresswoman Karen Bass, State Senator Isadore Hall, and others. She said she plans to have her campaign war chest of about $1.5 million ready to go by mid-summer, and that her strategy is to keep doing what’s she’s been doing—showing up to every invitation she gets to meet and greet citizens of California, especially potential supporters.
And she plans to continue leading with the issue of banking for the cannabis industry.
“We need banking not only for public safety and taxes, but because it is the American Way,” she reiterated. “We are all going to be better off for it when we can open bank accounts. I can’t tell you what the federal government will do, but California Treasurer Chiang has convened a banking stakeholder group; 14 of us coming together to address the issue. We’ve had four meetings so far, and the next meeting, which is July 7 in San Diego, is open to the public. After six meetings, we are going to issue a report that will give guidance either to the industry or to financial institutions, or maybe we’ll open our own public bank. If we do, we as the government are going to stand behind it, because we truly believe that this needs to be done in California.”
For more information on Fiona Ma’s campaign for State Treasurer, visit here.
Fiona Ma was profiled in the December 2016 issue of mg magazine.