L.A. Cannabis Licensing: A Waiting Game

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on February 8, 2018

It’s been over a month since the state of California began issuing licenses for commercial cannabis businesses. The epicenter of this emerging legal market is right here in Los Angeles. While the City passed their final ordinance in December, the licensing process has been off to a slow start.

The agency that regulates cannabis in Los Angeles, the Department of Cannabis Regulations (DCR) has begun to issue licenses for Phase 1 existing dispensaries. These applicants can apply through a streamlined process for a temporary license which allows them to then apply for a temporary state license and operate legally in the City. At this moment, there are 98 eligible businesses operating in Los Angeles with Temporary Approval from the DCR for Local Operation – in other words, a temporary license for legal cannabis activity.

Los Angeles’ Department of Cannabis Regulations has divided cannabis applications into three distinct phases, each with their own set of criteria to qualify. Phase 1 will remain open through March 4, 2018. This is the most exclusive phase with likely only 200 or so stores qualifying. The current phase is reserved for applicants who are candidates for “Proposition M Priority Processing”, which comes with a strict set of requirements that effectively limit eligibility to preexisting medical marijuana dispensaries. For this reason, existing operators working in cultivation and manufacturing and entrepreneurs looking to launch new businesses are eagerly awaiting Phase 2. Under the Los Angeles Ordinance, Phase 2 is supposed to end in early April 2018. For this reason, we expected applications to open for Phase 2 in early February. We have contacted the DCR almost daily, and as of yesterday, there was still no time estimate on when Phase 2 licensing applications will open.

When it does begin, Phase 2 will require that applicants have a preexisting cannabis business – it’s reserved for “Non-Retailer Commercial Cannabis Activity Prior to January 1, 2016 Processing.” To qualify, a business must meet the following standards, as imposed by the LA Municipal Code:

1) the Applicant was engaged prior to January 1,2016, in the same Non-Retailer Commercial Cannabis Activity that it now seeks a License for; 2) the Applicant provides evidence and attests under penalty of perjury that it was a supplier to an EMMD prior to January 1, 2017; 3) the Business Premises meets all of the land use and sensitive use requirements of Article 5 of Chapter X of this Code; 4) the Applicant passes a prelicense inspection; 5) there are no fire or life safety violations on the Business Premises: 6) the Applicant paid all outstanding City business tax obligations; 7) the Applicant 13 indemnifies the City from any potential liability on a form approved by DCR; 8) the Applicant provides a written agreement with a testing laboratory for testing of all Cannabis and Cannabis products and attests to testing all of its Cannabis and Cannabis products in accordance with state standards; 9) the Applicant is not engaged in Retailer Commercial Cannabis Activity at the Business Premises; 10) the Applicant attests that it will cease all operations if denied a State license or City License; 11) the Applicant qualifies under the Social Equity Program; and 12) the Applicant attests that it will comply with all operating requirements imposed by DCR and that DCR may immediately suspend or revoke the Temporary Approval if the Applicant fails to abide by any City operating requirement.

Of these criteria, an essential component is the Social Equity Program; not only is it still in development by the city, but it also divides candidates into separate tiers within the program itself, which could add further complications to the application process.

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

How Do I Find a Compliant Cannabis Property in Los Angeles?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 25, 2018

As cannabis entrepreneurs and investors learn about the legal requirements to operate a compliant cannabis business, the next question many arrive at is - so how do I find a compliant property?

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. 

No Reason to Panic Over Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Announcement

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 15, 2018

On January 4, Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department issued a new Memo on Marijuana Enforcement that has left many people in states that allow marijuana confused or worried.  The feds dropped this news just as California and its many cities are getting their new cannabis regulation systems going.  For the first time in California, cannabis will be grown, distributed, and sold in a highly regulated environment.  Substantial new tax money and jobs will be created in the state.  Many have wondered, should they scrap their cannabis licensing plans and pick a new line of work?

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. 

Ask an LA Cannabis Attorney: Can Existing LA Dispensaries Stay Open?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 2, 2018

2018 is here, and there is a lot of confusion in Los Angeles about the new cannabis laws. The question causing the most confusion is whether existing operators can stay open. Under Measure M, existing dispensaries with BTRCs who comply with Proposition D still have limited immunity until they are licensed. Under state law, a retailer needs a state and local license in order to conduct commercial cannabis activity. The City is currently holding a press conference on the issue and we will update our blog as this issue develops. Our LA cannabis attorneys give their opinion on the matter below. 

Update: At 1pm today, the City confirmed via a press conference that EMMD cannabis retailers in Los Angeles can remain open through the licensing process. 

For years under California state law, commercial marijuana activity has been limited to medical dispensaries and cultivation sites organized as non-profit collectives or cooperatives.  The City of Los Angeles has allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the City under various sets of rules, most recently under Proposition D, which passed in 2013 and provided immunity from a general ban on commercial cannabis activity to a specific group of medical marijuana dispensaries that have been in operation since 2007 and met various other requirements.

Under California’s Proposition 64, which passed in 2016, starting January 1, 2018, Californians are allowed to commercially grow, distribute, and sell both medical and non-medical marijuana, but only to the extent allowed by local governments (cities, or for those in unincorporated areas, counties).   The City of Los Angeles has a new system for regulating commercial cannabis activity, Measure M and portions of the Los Angeles Municipal Code implementing Measure M, which will allow for both medical and non-medical commercial cannabis.  It is expected that Los Angeles will begin open up its applications on January 3, and begin issuing licenses within a few weeks after that.  Under the terms of Measure M, the provisions of Proposition D were repealed beginning January 1, 2018.

Many have asked whether existing commercial cannabis businesses are allowed to continue operating under the old system of rules, until they are able to secure licenses in the new system.  Existing commercial marijuana dispensaries will retain their legal protection under state and local law, so long as they submit their applications for the new system within the time window provided by the City.  Los Angeles has announced that, for the first 60 days after opening its applications, only existing commercial cannabis businesses will be able to apply for licenses, in a “priority” round, and after this 60-day period, new commercial cannabis businesses will be eligible to apply for licenses.  Measure M makes clear that  existing medical dispensaries can continue operation after January 1, 2018, and need not shut down before applying for licenses, as long as they operate as non-profit collectives, follow all the rules set forth in Proposition D, and submit their applications for licenses within the 60-day priority period.

 Measure M describes this protection as follows: “An existing medical marijuana dispensary (“EMMD”) that is operating in compliance with the limited immunity provisions (Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 45.19.6.3) and tax provisions (Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 21.50) of Proposition D, may continue to operate within the City at the one location identified in its original or amended business tax registration certificate until such time that the EMMD applies for and receives a final response to its application for a City permit or license for commercial cannabis activity being conducted at that location. The City's designated licensing or permitting agency shall give priority in processing applications of EMMDs that can demonstrate to the City’s designated licensing or permitting agency that the EMMD has operated in compliance with the limited immunity and tax provisions of Proposition D. To avail itself of the terms of this Section, including the priority processing, an EMMD must apply for a City permit or license within sixty calendar days of the first date that applications are made available for commercial cannabis activity. If the City issues the EMMD a license or permit for commercial cannabis activity, the EMMD shall continue to operate at its location within the City in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth by the City."

California state law also provides that the provision giving legal protection to medical marijuana patient collectives and cooperatives, Health & Safety Code section 11362.775, will sunset one year after the State begins issuing cannabis licenses.  Until this law goes away, patients will still receive protection under state law for non-profit, collective cannabis activity.

 Accordingly, existing medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles may continue operating  under California’s medical marijuana non-profit collective laws, and Los Angeles’s Proposition D, as long as they submit their applications for licenses during the 60-day priority period.

 For medical marijuana cultivators, manufacturers, and distributors not located at one of the Proposition D dispensaries, there is no explicit protection under Los Angeles law for continued operation pending licensing.  Los Angeles has, however, provided a priority licensing system for these existing  non-retail businesses that have been around since before 2016 and supplying a Proposition D dispensary since before 2017.  This suggests that the City does not intend to prosecute such businesses in current operation, but until these businesses retain licenses from Los Angeles, they face some risk of being prosecuted. 

If you are confused Contact usto speak with one of our cannabis attorneys who can provide clarity on these issues and the cannabis licensing process. 

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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.