Federal Cannabis Update: 2018 Spending Bill Keeps Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 27, 2018

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.

Will California Lower the Cannabis Tax Rates?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 23, 2018

Legalization has been a bumpy road for California cannabis operators, and since January 1, owners are learning that it also comes at a price. The state’s steep taxes on cannabis businesses – with effective tax rates as high as 57% for some cannabis activities – have many operators bracing, and calling for a reduction in these so-called sin taxes. Consumers are also encountering price increases -- prices are up about 15% compared to last year.

LA City Council Update: New Cannabis Rules in Development

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 6, 2018

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 #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 info@margolinlawrence.com to speak with one of our Los Angeles cannabis lawyers.

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Cannabis Taxes: What is a Cannabis Resale Certificate?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on February 14, 2018

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.

All About California Cannabis Taxes

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on February 1, 2018

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

 

Ask a Cannabis Lawyer: Which license do I need for cannabis events? 

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 30, 2018

With the rise in popularity of cannabis related events in California such as Kush Stock, Chalice, High Times' Cannabis Cup, Hempcon, and the Secret Sesh; many event organizers and vendors are uncertain as to the new laws relating to cannabis events now that marijuana is legal in California. Our Los Angeles Cannabis attorneys are often asked about events and licensing. The Bureau of Cannabis Control recently issued guidance on just this topic. 

In short, everyone must be licensed. All cannabis event organizers will be required to obtain a cannabis event organizer license from the Bureau of Cannabis Control. The one exception to this is if you are hosting a private event. If your event is open to the public and you are selling tickets to the public, you need an event license. 

The Bureau recently clarified what will be expected of event organizers moving forward in order to comply with all regulations. If you want to sell cannabis products at your event, you will either need vendors who have a retail license there to do the sales, or you will need a retailer license yourself.

The State license fees will be determined by the number of events the organizer plans to produce during that year. However, this event license does not authorize the event organizer to cultivate, distribute, manufacture, or sell cannabis or cannabis products. In order to participate in the sale, cultivation, distribution or manufacturing or cannabis, the organizer must obtain separate licenses to engage in those commercial cannabis activities. This also means that compensation to a cannabis event organizer may not be tied to the sale of cannabis goods.

Once an event organizer obtains their event organizer license from the Bureau, the organizer must then ensure that all cannabis goods transported to the event site are transported by a licensed distributor and that the only vendors permitted to sell at the event to retail customers are a licensed retailer or microbusiness. To further ensure compliance by all participants, event organizers will be required to provide to the Bureau with a list of all licensees selling cannabis on-site at the event.

All cannabis goods sales at the event and access to the area where cannabis consumption is allowed must be limited to individuals 21 years of age and older, and cannabis products and cannabis consumption can’t be visible from any public place or non-age- restricted area. Food trucks are still allowed, but the consumption of alcohol and tobacco is not at cannabis events.

Currently, the State of California is issuing temporary cannabis event licenses for cannabis events that last no longer than four consecutive days. To obtain a temporary cannabis event license, the cannabis event organizer licensee must submit an application to the Bureau at least 60 days before the first day of the cannabis event and must obtain a license for each individual cannabis event from the Bureau for the specific dates and location of the event. Finally, the event organizer must obtain written approval from the local jurisdiction authorizing on-site cannabis sales and consumption by individuals 21 and older. This leaves it up to each individual municipality to determine whether they will allow cannabis events to take place. For example, the Orange County Fair Board members recently voted to prohibit marijuana-related events at the Costa Mesa Fairgrounds. The first cannabis event State license was issued to the Burn Out Music, Art and Cannabis festival scheduled to take place in Tulare County, but was subsequently cancelled by City Officials just two days before the event.

To start the process of applying for your event, you can do so directly on the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s website. For legal advice to ensure the success of your cannabis event, Contact us

Culver City To Begin Cannabis Licensing

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 23, 2018

 

Last night at a packed City Council meeting, Culver City approved a new cannabis public health regulatory ordinance. The vote was unanimous, 5-0, which seemed to take some councilmembers by surprise.  The new ordinance amended Culver City’s Municipal Code Chapter 11.17 on commercial cannabis businesses, adding a new subchapter which adopted, by reference, Los Angeles County’s ordinance on the subject. In other words, Culver City basically adopted the ordinance that L.A. County already had researched and implemented.

One speaker pointed out at last night’s meeting that Culver City took a smart procedural shortcut in adopting L.A. County’s well-thought-out ordinance. Perhaps this is something the other 85 or so cities in Los Angeles County who have not passed cannabis ordinances yet should consider. 

It is Time to Reform Asset Forfeiture

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 18, 2018

After Jeff Sessions’ January 4 Memo on Marijuana Enforcement, many property owners and business people are wondering if federal asset forfeiture could become a growing problem. The asset forfeiture laws allow the federal government to seize assets (e.g., bank accounts, cash, vehicles, homes, or other buildings) that the government alleges are tied to the distribution or production of controlled substances, including cannabis. They remain a problem for all cannabis businesses, although some recent reforms have reduced the impact of asset forfeiture. 

Ask A Cannabis Trademark Lawyer: How Do I Apply For A State Trademark?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 9, 2018

 As of January 1st, 2018, the long wait is over: cannabis business owners can apply for California state trademarks. The application form can be obtained here: http://bpd.cdn.sos.ca.gov/ts/forms/tm-100.pdf. Because cannabis is still federally illegal and cannabis products themselves cannot be trademarked, this is a viable avenue for many California cannabis brands that will protect your business marks within the state. You can read our prior post about USPTO Trademarks here.

According to the website for the Office of the California Secretary of State:

“Beginning January 1, 2018, customers may register their cannabis-related Trademark or Service Mark with the California Secretary of State's office so long as:

1.The mark is lawfully in use in commerce within California; and 

2.Matches the classification of goods and services adopted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  

If the application submitted to register a Trademark or Service Mark is found deficient, the application will be returned to the registrant for correction.

Note: Not all cannabis-related products can be registered under current law due to the inability to meet federal classifications.”

This means that in order to obtain your state marks, you must be lawfully using the marks in commerce at the time of the application. Therefore, you will need to be licensed in compliance with SB 94,  both at the local and state level, before you’re eligible for trademark approval. Otherwise, if you claim an unlicensed use, you may run into issues with the Secretary of State. Further, once your license is obtained, you must also show that you’re making actual, bona fide use of the trademarks on your products in the stream of commerce. That means that customers are identifying you by your brand when they purchase your goods or services in the marketplace.

Ask An LA Cannabis Attorney: Do I need a cannabis water permit?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 4, 2018

The complex cannabis regulations that have been rolled out by local and state governments across California means that as a cannabis operator you will be working with a number of different regulatory agencies. The rules for many of the cannabis activities are promulgated by different agencies - for example, the Bureau of Cannabis Control regulates retail, distribution and delivery in the state of California, while CalCannabis (a division of the CDFA) regulates cannabis cultivation in the state. One area of great confusion for many cannabis cultivators that our Los Angeles cannabis attorneys have been fielding questions on is the issue of obtaining a state water license. The regulations for water were passed in October, and the application portal is currently open to apply for a water permit. The water policy aims to protect California's natural streams and bodies of water from pollution and prevent diversion of water for cannabis cultivation. 

On October 17, 2017, the State Water Board adopted a state-wide policy establishing strict environmental standards for cannabis cultivation. The state-wide policy is designed to protect water flows and water quality in the state of California. All cannabis cultivators will need to comply with this state-wide policy. In addition to complying with the Water Board’s state-wide policy, cultivators will need to comply with all other state, federal and local laws.

The state-wide policy will be implemented through a water quality permit known as the Cannabis General Order and through conditions for cannabis-related water rights known as Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registration.

All cultivators will need to register their water right and water discharge using the Water Board’s online portal. The Water Board’s online portal can be found here. Depending on the cultivator’s water source, the state-wide policy may or may not apply to them.

To see the cannabis cultivation policy, click here. If you are a cannabis cultivator and have questions relating to the state-wide policy, Contact us to speak with one of our cannabis attorneys. 

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This blog is not intended as legal advice and should not be taken as such. The possession, use, and/or sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law.