Today the Los Angeles City Council held a special meeting, where a passionate and energized public audience made it clear that they want to see the tax revenue collected from the commercial cannabis industry to be reinvested into social equity programs. The specific tax revenues being discussed were the proposed “Cannabis Reinvestment Act,” as well as a provision that would increase tax rates once the cannabis industry within LA reaches an aggregate of $1.5 Billion in total gross receipts.
California’s transition into a regulated market has many operators wondering what the universe of compliance looks like and where they fit into the process. In order to operate legally in California after January 1, 2018, you need both a local authorization and a state license. Temporary licenses from the state of California are sufficient to continue operating, though you will eventually need to obtain an Annual License. To date, 954 cannabis businesses in California have received Cease and Desist letters from the Bureau of Cannabis Control. While some were in error, others were operating without the required licenses for California.
It’s important to understand that licensure is not the end-all-be-all of compliance -- in fact, it is the minimum requirement for your business to operate legally. In addition to having a state license (which requires local authorization), you will need to begin thinking about how to set up your business with compliance processes that facilitate and enable adherence to state regulations for your activities: cannabis microbusiness, retail, manufacturing, cultivation or testing. The below infographic is an overview of the entire licensing/compliance process.
Where does your business fit in?
On April 2nd, the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission opened its licensing application process for cannabis businesses, marking Massachusetts’ official entry into the legal cannabis industry. Despite the relatively strict criteria that applicants must meet in order to qualify for the first round of licensing, the Boston Globe reports that almost 200 prospective cannabis operators have started their applications within the first day of the system’s opening, a definite sign that interest is high.
For the time being, applications are only open for “Priority Applicants,” a group consisting of Registered Marijuana Dispensaries – existing retail businesses which already have a certificate of registration and are in good standing with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health – and Economic Empowerment Applicants. The latter category is analogous to the Social Equity Program in the Oakland and Los Angeles cannabis licensing processes: Granting priority to certain business operators is intended as a restorative measure to benefit communities, demographics, and individuals who have been disproportionately punished by cannabis laws in the past.
According to the Massachusetts regulations on the Adult Use of Marijuana, to qualify as an Economic Empowerment Applicant, a prospective cannabis operator must meet three or more of the following criteria:
- A majority of ownership belongs to people who have lived for five of the preceding ten years in an area of disproportionate impact, as determined by the Commission;
- A majority of ownership has held one or more previous positions where the primary population served were disproportionately impacted, or where primary responsibilities included economic education, resource provision or empowerment to disproportionately impacted individuals or communities;
- At least 51% of current employees or subcontractors reside in areas of disproportionate impact and by the first day of business, the ratio will meet or exceed 75%;
- At least 51% or employees or subcontractors have drug-related CORI and are otherwise legally employable in cannabis enterprises;
- A majority of the ownership is made up of individuals from Black, African American, Hispanic or Latino descent;
- Other significant articulable demonstration of past experience in or business practices that promote economic empowerment in areas of disproportionate impact.
If a cannabis operator is certified as a Priority Applicant, they’ll be eligible to submit a state licensing application for all activities on April 17th. Businesses that don’t receive this priority will have to wait: Open applications for Cultivation, Microbusiness, Craft Cooperatives, Independent Testing Labs, and Lab Agents are scheduled to begin on May 1st, while applications for Retail, Product Manufacturers, and Transport businesses won’t open until June 1st. Given that the state has slated retail sales to begin on July 1st, this means that, if Massachusetts sticks to the current deadlines, applications are likely to be a very competitive, time-sensitive process.
Even if they don’t qualify as priority applicants, prospective cannabis operators should study state and local regulations to ensure that their applications are in order – as Massachusetts is still in the early stages of the cannabis licensing process, many deadlines and regulations are still subject to change. For more information on Massachusetts’ cannabis regulations, follow this blog or contact us at email@example.com.
Last week, despite controversy, criticism from both sides of the aisle, and talk of a veto, President Trump agreed to sign the federal government’s omnibus spending bill for 2018. To the relief of many in the legal cannabis industry, the spending bill retains a provision known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer (or Rohrabacher-Farr) amendment, which provides limited protection from federal prosecution for state-level legal cannabis activity.
Given both Trump’s and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough talk on drugs and threats to crack down on the cannabis industry, the continued presence of this amendment is a silver lining for those anxious about the future of legal cannabis. While this won’t mean a change in the federal treatment of marijuana – the amendment has been included in every spending bill since 2014 – it does indicate that the government intends to keep on its current course with regard to cannabis, as the provision has to be renewed every year to remain in effect.
Likewise, though the actual protections afforded by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment are limited, its being signed into law was, and remains, an important indication of the federal government’s shift in attitude regarding cannabis: as the LA Times reported following the provision’s first inclusion in the spending bill, “Congress for years had resisted calls to allow states to chart their own path on pot. The marijuana measure, which forbids the federal government from using any of its resources to impede state medical marijuana laws, was previously rejected half a dozen times.” In this light, the amendment was a notable pivot from a top-down to a state-level approach to cannabis regulation.
California cannabis consumers and business owners shouldn’t get too comfortable, though: not only does the amendment not change anything about the federal government’s cannabis policy in and of itself, its terms only apply to medical marijuana, not recreational cannabis. So far, the government has rejected proposed amendments that would grant recreational cannabis operations the same protection from federal intervention. For the time being, California cannabis business owners’ best bet is to stay in full compliance with state and local law as the federal situation develops.
The cannabis plant contains over 480 elements. Two of them being THC and CBD. Both are ubiquitous in modern day cannabis products, with different benefits and side-effects to each.
As of this year, cannabis business is legal in Los Angeles, but the process of drafting and refining the laws and regulations that will actually govern the legal cannabis industry is still in its early stages.
To that end, over the past month, the LA city council met to adopt the following items:
- Item #21: Cannabis Advertisement
- Item #22: Prop D Dispensaries, MMD's, AUMA
- Item #23: MAUCRSA, Prop D, Land Use, Preparation of Ordinance, AUMA
- Item #24: New hires at the DCR, Cannabis Business Fees, Interim Position Authority
- Item #25: Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act / State-Chartered Bank / Cannabis Banking Activities
While none of these items are extremely surprising in their own right, they may have significant consequences for the nature of Los Angeles’ cannabis industry.
For instance, Item #23 lays out a path to adjust the LA municipal code, adding “provisions to allow for the Cannabis Regulation Commission to make exceptions to the 600-foot school restriction for non-retail cannabis activities subject to a California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 analysis of environmental impacts and conditions to address public health, safety and welfare considerations, as well as a public hearing.” This means that buildings that were not in the correct zoning could be, if the City finds after the environmental analysis that there are not negative effects from having a cannabis cultivation or manufacturing operation near a school. A change to this rule would potentially mean that, as long as they were in keeping with public health and safety, cannabis businesses could be located in far more locations across LA. Note that under state law, local jurisdictions can allow for closer than 600 feet.
Other ideas in these items may also have major impacts on the LA cannabis industry. For instance, Item #23 also provides for mixed-light cultivation and social consumption lounges, two activities that the city’s cannabis ordinances haven’t allowed in the past, while Item #25 expresses the city’s support for a State-chartered bank that would allow cannabis businesses to bank their money in California. Each of these changes would be a major step toward full legal legitimacy for marijuana in the Los Angeles area.
While these items are significant in their own right, they also reflect a trend of increasing acceptance of the cannabis industry in LA. Establishing regulations however, is an ongoing process. For more information, check our guide to California cannabis business law or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with one of our Los Angeles cannabis lawyers.
As recreational “adult-use” cannabis is officially legalized across California, cannabis taxation is more important than ever for legal cannabis operators. Our Los Angeles Cannabis attorneys are often asked about the new state tax system and what is new since January 1, 2018. As of a few months ago, the BOE became the CDTFA. For California, there are three different state-level taxes on cannabis business: the Cultivation Tax, the Cannabis Excise Tax, and the Sales and Use Tax. The new state tax agency has released an educational series to explain the new tax regime. Cannabis manufacturers and distributors need to become familiar with the resale certificate. As its name implies, a resale certificate relates to the Sales and Use tax.
The Sales and Use Tax applies to sales of cannabis or cannabis products (flowers, plants, hash, bud, vape pens, edibles, oils, etc.) to consumers – in other words, the “final sale” of cannabis before the product is used/consumed. However, there are circumstances in the cannabis supply chain where these products are sold to a cannabis business for resale, rather than to a consumer. For instance, if a licensed distributor sells cannabis to a licensed retailer, they’re making a sale, but the purchaser doesn’t intend to use or consume the product themselves. In order to prevent the distributor from being liable for taxation on this type of sale, the retailer can give the distributor a resale certificate. If timely and valid, this certifies that the purchaser intends to resell the product and therefore exempts the distributor from the tax.
Without a resale certificate, both the seller and the purchaser are liable for Sales and Use Tax. In the example above, the distributor would need to pay it for their sale to the retailer, while the retailer would need to pay it for the sale they make to the final consumer. The same goes for other sales of cannabis between licensed cannabis businesses. For instance, when a cultivator sells cannabis flower to a manufacturer, the cultivator is liable for a Sales and Use Tax unless the manufacturer gives them a resale certificate for the purchase.
One important thing for distributors to keep in mind is the distinction between “transport” and “sale”. If one licensed cannabis business purchases cannabis products directly from another, e.g. a retailer buying flowers from a cultivator, the distributor who is contracted to transport the products from the cultivator’s operation to the retailer’s isn’t making a sale, and therefore doesn’t need to pay a Sales and Use Tax, regardless of whether they’re given a resale certificate.
Even if all their business’ sales are for resale and exempt from Sales and Use Tax, all cannabis operators are still responsible for filing a tax return and reporting their activities to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Remember, a resale certificate only applies to the Sales and Use Tax, not the Cultivation or Excise taxes.
Market volatility sent many investors reeling yesterday, with the dow plunging over 1,000 points. Cryptocurrency, a digital asset that is popular with cannabis entrepreneurs, was not spared. As of today, Bitcoin is trading at $7,049 per USD, down from over $18,000 a few weeks ago. Those familiar with cryptocurrency know that Bitcoin is only one type of asset, and that in fact there are multiple currencies available. One in particular, may be a potential solution to the cannabis industry’s banking crisis: PotCoin. Our Los Angeles cannabis attorneys are following developments in cryptocurrency closely and monitoring progress as regulations catch up with technology, and the state works towards a banking solution for cannabis operators. In fact, just this week, the U.S. Senate in conjunction with the SEC and the CFTC held a discussion titled “Virtual Currencies: The Oversight Role of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.” We will cover the results of this discussion in a future post.
One of the first cryptocurrencies to ever enter the market as a cannabis coin, PotCoin, was launched on January 21st, 2014. Back then, cryptocurrencies and their applications were widely regarded by the public as a space that catered to the underground, illicit economy of the world. Potcoin describes itself as “the first digital currency created to facilitate transactions within the legalized cannabis industry.” Established around the same time as cannabis legalization in Colorado, PotCoin positioned itself as an alternative to banking, even going so as far as to installing PotCoin ATM machines at a few locations. Now that the marijuana revolution in our country has garnered more support than ever, these cannabis cryptocurrencies will undoubtedly be brought up for legitimate discussion once again. Currently, PotCoin is valued much lower than Bitcoin at $0.129 USD at the time of publishing this article.
How does PotCoin differ from Bitcoin? PotCoin runs on a “proof of stake” system, as opposed to Bitcoin, which runs on a “proof of work” system. This means that the individual or entity mining for PotCoin does not need an all-powerful computer with intense graphics cards, but a certain stake or ownership of the currency to mine it. This eliminates all the expensive hardware associated with the “proof of work” system, and validates the blockchain more efficiently. Through blockchain technology, PotCoins are verified while still efficiently eliminating the double-spending problem. The largest issue that PotCoin faces is one of network scalability and transaction speeds. These are both issues that the development team for PotCoin are fervently trying to solve. Whether or not PotCoin will make its mark on the economy of cannabis is contingent on how the development team addresses these key issues.
With a multitude of states on the path towards the legalization of cannabis, it will be interesting to see whether or not the cannabis industry will adopt PotCoin as a potential solution to the banking quandary and certainly the development issues above will be determinative of whether PotCoin is up to the challenge.
Many are excited about California’s new era of legalized marijuana. For the first time, state and local governments are allowing marijuana sales to all adults. There is also a new licensing system for all sectors of the industry. The new system creates many new opportunities for businesses and consumers. But is also comes with new taxes that have caused sticker shock for many California cannabis operators and customers visiting dispensaries this month. Governments are eager for the new tax revenues, although some predict that if taxes are too high, a black market will persist as people opt out of the licensed system. One of the questions our Los Angeles cannabis attorneys are most frequently asked is about the new cannabis taxes and how they will affect California cannabis businesses.
To sum it up, effective tax rates for marijuana operators are high. Not only do cannabis businesses have to pay corporate taxes like any other business (except that they can't take deductions on their federal taxes due to 280E), but there are also additional city and state taxes specifically for cannabis operators that need to be factored in as well. Just as Federal, State and Local law apply to cannabis operators, those governments all also apply their own taxes to cannabis.
Here is a chart that gives you an overview of the effective tax rates for different cannabis businesses, using Los Angeles as an example for factoring in local taxes as well:
NOTE that the Excise Tax (15%) and Sales Tax (8.5%) imposed on retailers is passed directly on to the consumer. So the effective tax rate is similar to the other activities when you factor that in, but overall the tax rates are very high for operators.
One of the reasons cannabis operators must pay so much in taxes is that cannabis is still a Schedule I controlled substance under Federal Law. Section 162 of the U.S. Tax Code allows for businesses to deduct Ordinary and Necessary expenses from their taxes. An exception to this section is 280E, which prevents deductions from Federal Taxes for businesses involved in selling Schedule I controlled substances. You can read the text of 280E here and check out a seminal 2007 Tax Court decision -- CHAMPS v. Commissioner (2007) which allowed an operating dispensary to separate out product-touching deductions and deductions for a separate ancillary business. A related 2015 ruling in U.S. Tax Court held that unlike CHAMPS, an operator running an activism business and selling cannabis could not separate the two businesses and take deductions under 280. These two cases apply to retailers. Other cases have found that cultivators and manufacturers can take certain deductions for costs of production. We will cover this in a future post.
Here are the individual maximum tax rates that apply:
|Federal Corporate Tax Rate***||California Cannabis Taxes||California Business Taxes 8.84%||Los Angeles Cannabis Taxes||Los Angeles Business Taxes (.425%)||Payroll Taxes (Estimated effective rate)||Estimated Effective Tax Rate|
|Retail||21%||23.5% -- 15% excise tax + 8.5% sales tax||8.84%||10% in LA for adult use; 5% in LA for medical||0.43%||3%****||57%|
|Cultivation*||21%||12% estimated ($9.25/ounce tax on flower = $148 per pound) + $0 sales tax||8.84%||2%||0.43%||3%||45%|
|Manufacturing||21%||Collect Cultivator Tax + $0 sales for resale||8.84%||2%||0.43%||3%||35%|
|Distribution||21%||Pay CDTFA Cultivator Tax + $0 sales for resale||8.84%||1%||0.43%||3%||35%|
|Testing||21% + Deductions = Estimated 15%||-||8.84%||1%||0.43%||3%||34%|
|Microbusiness||21%||per activity||8.84%||per activity||0.43%||3%||Varies per microbusiness activity|
|*(flower - different tax rates for stems and fresh plants; clones are not taxed by state)|
|**280E likely does not apply to testing labs|
|***280E prevents deductions for businesses trafficking cannabis|
|****Social Security, Medicare, Calif & Fed. Unemployment - this is a percentage of employees' salaries, for purposes of the chart it is converted to be tied to revenue consistent with the other percentages|
These are the required California state cannabis taxes by activity:
Cultivators must pay a $9.25/ounce tax on all dried cannabis flowers (and a lower rate per ounce for cannabis leaves or fresh cannabis plant).
Retailers must pay both a 15% excise tax on all their purchases of cannabis, as well as a sales tax on all their taxable retail sales, which varies by locality but can be close to 10%.
Manufacturers must collect cannabis cultivation taxes from cultivators from which they receive unprocessed cannabis, and pay these cultivation taxes to the distributors.
Distributors must collect cultivation taxes from cultivators and manufacturers from which they receive cannabis, and collect cannabis excise taxes from retailers they supply with cannabis.
In addition to these taxes, localities are free to impose their own cannabis business taxes, and many impose substantial taxes on both cultivation and all business proceeds.
It is important to note that the cannabis specific taxes are in addition to standard taxes like Federal and State corporate tax, and local business taxes for businesses operating in cities like Los Angeles.
While distributors, testing facilities and manufacturers appear to pay less taxes than cultivators or retailers, they will no doubt share the costs of taxation as cultivators increase their prices to account for the cultivation tax.
If these taxes are passed directly on to consumers, that could mean a retail outlet previously charging $60 per 1/8 of an ounce of marijuana would increase their price to $90. On the other hand, many have predicted that the pre-tax prices of cannabis will drop over time, as more large-scale cultivation, distribution, and retail operations reduce their overhead costs and margins, would could counteract some of the higher taxes.
For operators, these effective tax rates are extremely high and it is important to consult with a tax attorney and a qualified accountant who can help you with tax planning and preparation to set up your business for success. For more information and worksheets to calculate your California cannabis taxes, refer to the CDTFA’s website.