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.
The state of California has officially begun to grant temporary licenses for cannabis distribution, pending applications and processing of full state licenses. Temporary licenses are “a conditional license that allows a business to engage in commercial cannabis activity for a period of 120 days.” They can only be granted to businesses which have already received their local licenses, and are intended to allow locally-licensed businesses to operate while waiting for their full state license to be reviewed.
When it comes to record-keeping, in particular, the requirements of temporarily-licensed cannabis distributors are different from those of annually-licensed ones. The reason for this difference is that the track-and-trace system which California will use to record the movements of cannabis products has yet to be fully implemented. While annual license holders will be required to use this system, based on the Franwell METRC software, to keep track of their inventory, CalCannabis states that temporary license holders must manually document their sales using “paper sales invoices or shipping manifests”.
For the temporary distribution licensee, then, keeping in compliance with state regulations is not only about following the operating requirements, but also about keeping track of a relatively complicated set of information for the sake of record-keeping. Distributors need:
- Local cannabis recordkeeping requirements (usually keeping business, inventory, & patient records for a several-year period)
- State cannabis record retention requirements (listed in California Code of Regulations, Title 16, Division 42, §5037) – financial, personnel, training, security, etc.
- The California Board of Equalization’s general record-keeping requirements for businesses (keeping track of the sales & use taxes, receipts, deductions, and purchase prices for 4 years).
- Paper sales invoices or shipping manifests for all sales
- A resale certificate for all sales intended for resale
If a distributor plans on reselling cannabis rather than just distributing it, they’ll need to make sure their seller’s permit is in order as well. For more information on resale certificates, check our recent post on the subject.
While all this paperwork may seem daunting at first, a licensed distribution operation should be more than qualified to handle it – and, once the California METRC system is implemented, keeping records of sales and inventory should be streamlined considerably.
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.
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.
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.
As we prepare for January 1 and recreational cannabis in California, many legal questions remain for cannabis businesses. In this video, Los Angeles Cannabis Attorneys Margolin & Lawrence explain the local and state licensing process for cannabis businesses in California. If you are looking for a high level overview of what you will need to do to start a cannabis business, or get your existing cannabis business into compliance, this is the place to start.
As the January 1 deadline for legalization approaches and Los Angeles prepares to open applications for cannabis businesses, the question on cannabis entrepreneurs’ minds is: How many cannabis microbusinesses will LA allow, and where will they be?
California classifies type 12 cannabis activity, or “microbusiness,” as an operation which engages in at least three different cannabis activities between cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and retail sales. Since microbusinesses are, by definition, small-scale and permitted to engage in multiple different kinds of cannabis business, many see a microbusiness license as the best entry point to the marijuana industry for local entrepreneurs and small business operations. However, LA’s particular location restrictions may make getting one easier said than done.
Earlier this month, the City Council released the city’s proposed restrictions on commercial cannabis activity. For each neighborhood, there will be an upper limit on the number of licenses granted, so that no more than a certain amount of licenses will be given out for each type of business. For instance, Hollywood plans to give out a total of 20 licenses for marijuana retail businesses. However, when it comes to microbusiness, many neighborhoods’ upper limits are very small – for instance, Venice will only give out 5 licenses. Additionally, microbusinesses engaging in on-site retail or cultivation will count toward the total numbers for retail and cultivation.
What all this means is that the cannabis licensing process will be particularly competitive for microbusinesses, since, in many neighborhoods, a large number of applicants will be competing for a small number of slots. While it will still be possible for a small business owner to break into the Los Angeles marijuana industry, any aspiring microbusiness operators should get their applications in order as soon as possible.
L.A. County released long-awaited draft cannabis regulations yesterday. The Board of Supervisors, which creates laws that govern all of the unincorporated areas of the county (any area that is not part of an incorporated city) has been listening to the findings of the Cannabis Advisory Group over many months and has released the zoning requirements that will apply to commercial cannabis in the county, as well as the activities that will be licensed.The County will be issuing for Adult-Use (recreational) and Medical cannabis uses. Our LA cannabis attorneys have reviewed the proposed cannabis regulations and our findings are below.
At a meeting this week, the LA City Council adopted a draft ordinance on the subject of the fees and fines for cannabis licensing, bringing the city one step closer to opening its official cannabis licensing process. Our Los Angeles Cannabis Lawyers are often asked how much the compliance process will cost. Now that LA has published their fee schedule, many existing cannabis businesses have sticker shock. Existing cannabis retailers, for instance, will have to pay nearly $10,000 for an official LA retail license. Cannabis microbusiness owners will need to pay fees for each cannabis activity they are conducting. The City will likely only accepting payment in cash or by check (no bitcoin, yet).
Our Los Angeles Cannabis Attorneys are constantly fielding questions about a popular license category called microbusiness. The Type 12 license allows you to engage in multiple cannabis activities on the same premises. For example, you could cultivate up to 10,000 sq. ft. of canopy, and distribute, and deliver under one license for microbusiness. The chance to diversify your business and conduct multiple activities under one license is appealing to many existing and prospective cannabis business owners.
The Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), released their final regulations for cannabis microbusiness licensees last week, after revising them post SB-94 (you can read more about the process here). Here’s what they have to say about the restrictions on cannabis microbusinesses:
- Microbusinesses must engage in at least 3 different commercial cannabis activities
- Microbusiness applicants have to describe operating procedures as required for each activity
- If a microbusiness license is revoked or suspended, it affects every activity done using that license
- Microbusiness license fees range from $5,000 to $120,000 depending on size of operation (up to $5 million)
- Retail operations & Microbusinesses with retail sales can give out free samples to medicinal marijuana customers, as long as it meets the same conditions as normal retail sales
- Sales at events are allowed
- Retailers & Microbusinesses with retail will have to employ security guards