Cannabis Compliance: Operating Legally in California in 2018

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on April 10, 2018

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?


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.

I Have My Temporary Distribution License. Now What?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 13, 2018

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.

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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What happens after the temporary cannabis license?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 2, 2018

On January 1, 2018 the state of California began issuing temporary licenses for cannabis operators. We are about halfway through the 120-day period allotted for temporary licenses and the state has allowed an additional 90 day extension so long as businesses submit a complete application for the annual license. Our Los Angeles cannabis attorneys are facing many questions about what happens when the temporary license expires. The answer is that you need to submit for an annual cannabis license from the state. 

Ask a Cannabis Lawyer: What Do I Need to Do for a Temporary License?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on February 21, 2018

Since mid-December, California has been issuing temporary state licenses to cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, distributors, microbusinesses, testing laboratories, and event organizers operating in the commercial cannabis market. These temporary licenses became effective as of January 1, 2018, and are currently being reviewed and approved by the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) per the Business and Professions Code, section 26050.1. As of today, over 2,500 temporary state licenses have been issued. 

So what is this license and why do you need it? The temporary license is a conditional license that allows cannabusinesses to engage in commercial cannabis operations in the state of California for 120 days (about 4 months). The license is only available to applicants that have first obtained a local license, and allows cannabusinesses to operate before receiving their full state license. Within this 120 day period, the temporary licensee must apply for the state license. However, if the state license isn’t received by the end of that four-month period, California may grant extensions of 90-days to the temporary license as necessary. According to Lori Ajax, Chief of the BCC, California will routinely extend the licenses if the failure to obtain a state license is no fault of the licensee. “If it’s on us,” she says, “we will continue to give extensions so you can keep operating.” 

What is required for the temporary license? Besides obtaining a local license, the temporary license application requires a number of additional pieces of information from the applicant, including:

 

  • Applicant & Business Information: Physical address of the premises and name of the applicant(s) or business entity requesting the license, including the primary contact information of the applicant(s)
  • Owner information: The name, mailing address, and contact information  for each “owner” of the business, as defined in Business and Professions Code §26001
  • License information: Specification of the license types applied for (such as distribution, or microbusiness, for example)
  • Operational Activities: product type and activity information
  • Local Jurisdiction: Local jurisdiction contact information
  • Local Authorization: Documentation of authorization to operate from the city/county in which the business premises are located, consisting of a copy of the valid license, permit or other authorization
  • Property Authorization: Either documentation of title or deed to the property or a lease agreement (or other such authorization) from the landlord demonstrating a right to occupy the premises and engage in the applied-for commercial cannabis use
  • Property Site Plan: A diagram of the physical layout of the property and business premises

  

The required information varies depending on the type of license a business is applying for. For example, the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch of the Department of Public Health processes temporary license applications for manufacturing, while the BCC processes the applications for distributors, microbusinesses, testing laboratories, and event organizers. For more information on the licensing process, check our guide to California cannabis laws.

 

If you have obtained your local license, or are close to receiving it and looking to obtain your temporary state license, contact our cannabis attorneys today!

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

 

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. 

L.A. Cannabis Update: Who Can Apply for a License Right now?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 11, 2018

While Jeff Sessions made his announcement last week that he was repealing the Cole Memo, Los Angeles opened their online portal for recreational cannabis applications. The conflict of law continues, but many operators in Los Angeles just want to know - “when can I get my license!?”

Currently, only cannabis retailers who qualify for Measure M Priority Processing are eligible to apply for licensure. Measure M Priority is limited to those operators who have a Business Tax Registration Certificate (BTRC) from 2015, 2016, or 2017 that is categorized as L050. This group is more expansive than just “Pre-ICOs” and will allow for newer businesses that have not been operating in Los Angeles for over a decade, in fact, you could have even opened a store a little over a year ago and qualify (you can read more in our previous post).

If you qualify for Measure M priority, you are considered an EMMD (existing medical marijuana dispensary) by the City. EMMDs numbers will not count towards the neighborhood caps that will be established for undue concentration or the limit on the number of licenses that will be issued for dispensaries in the City (around 390). They will receive licenses before anyone else in the City of Los Angeles, and will also be able to obtain their state licenses once they receive local authorization from the City.


Los Angeles will be issuing the first temporary licenses for Measure M Priority Dispensaries within the next couple of weeks. The temporary license is free to apply and you will need your BTRC number, a site plan, a lease, and identifying information for the owners of the operation. The Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation has not given guidance as to when the annual license applications will be open for EMMD cannabis retailers in the City.


The next wave of applications will be Phase 2, when the City will be rolling out its Social Equity Program. Many of the details for the program are still being ironed out and we expect to hear more from the LA DCR in the coming weeks.

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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.