Back in September, we published a blog post titled “Where Can I Get a Distribution License in California.” Now that the ordinances for the majority of jurisdictions in California have been reviewed and somewhat solidified, Margolin and Lawrence presents an updated list on the viable locations for distribution licenses in California.
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?
Only a week is left until Culver City starts accepting applications for cannabis business
permits - except storefront retail, which is scheduled to open by May. With delays in the City of LA's application process, the City's original slogan,"All Roads Lead to Culver City" is beginning to ring true for many cannabis businesses.
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.
As of this year, cannabis business is legal in Los Angeles, but the process of drafting and refining the laws and regulations that will actually govern the legal cannabis industry is still in its early stages.
To that end, over the past month, the LA city council met to adopt the following items:
- Item #21: Cannabis Advertisement
- Item #22: Prop D Dispensaries, MMD's, AUMA
- Item #23: MAUCRSA, Prop D, Land Use, Preparation of Ordinance, AUMA
- Item #24: New hires at the DCR, Cannabis Business Fees, Interim Position Authority
- Item #25: Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act / State-Chartered Bank / Cannabis Banking Activities
While none of these items are extremely surprising in their own right, they may have significant consequences for the nature of Los Angeles’ cannabis industry.
For instance, Item #23 lays out a path to adjust the LA municipal code, adding “provisions to allow for the Cannabis Regulation Commission to make exceptions to the 600-foot school restriction for non-retail cannabis activities subject to a California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 analysis of environmental impacts and conditions to address public health, safety and welfare considerations, as well as a public hearing.” This means that buildings that were not in the correct zoning could be, if the City finds after the environmental analysis that there are not negative effects from having a cannabis cultivation or manufacturing operation near a school. A change to this rule would potentially mean that, as long as they were in keeping with public health and safety, cannabis businesses could be located in far more locations across LA. Note that under state law, local jurisdictions can allow for closer than 600 feet.
Other ideas in these items may also have major impacts on the LA cannabis industry. For instance, Item #23 also provides for mixed-light cultivation and social consumption lounges, two activities that the city’s cannabis ordinances haven’t allowed in the past, while Item #25 expresses the city’s support for a State-chartered bank that would allow cannabis businesses to bank their money in California. Each of these changes would be a major step toward full legal legitimacy for marijuana in the Los Angeles area.
While these items are significant in their own right, they also reflect a trend of increasing acceptance of the cannabis industry in LA. Establishing regulations however, is an ongoing process. For more information, check our guide to California cannabis business law or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with one of our Los Angeles cannabis lawyers.
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.
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!
Market volatility sent many investors reeling yesterday, with the dow plunging over 1,000 points. Cryptocurrency, a digital asset that is popular with cannabis entrepreneurs, was not spared. As of today, Bitcoin is trading at $7,049 per USD, down from over $18,000 a few weeks ago. Those familiar with cryptocurrency know that Bitcoin is only one type of asset, and that in fact there are multiple currencies available. One in particular, may be a potential solution to the cannabis industry’s banking crisis: PotCoin. Our Los Angeles cannabis attorneys are following developments in cryptocurrency closely and monitoring progress as regulations catch up with technology, and the state works towards a banking solution for cannabis operators. In fact, just this week, the U.S. Senate in conjunction with the SEC and the CFTC held a discussion titled “Virtual Currencies: The Oversight Role of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.” We will cover the results of this discussion in a future post.
One of the first cryptocurrencies to ever enter the market as a cannabis coin, PotCoin, was launched on January 21st, 2014. Back then, cryptocurrencies and their applications were widely regarded by the public as a space that catered to the underground, illicit economy of the world. Potcoin describes itself as “the first digital currency created to facilitate transactions within the legalized cannabis industry.” Established around the same time as cannabis legalization in Colorado, PotCoin positioned itself as an alternative to banking, even going so as far as to installing PotCoin ATM machines at a few locations. Now that the marijuana revolution in our country has garnered more support than ever, these cannabis cryptocurrencies will undoubtedly be brought up for legitimate discussion once again. Currently, PotCoin is valued much lower than Bitcoin at $0.129 USD at the time of publishing this article.
How does PotCoin differ from Bitcoin? PotCoin runs on a “proof of stake” system, as opposed to Bitcoin, which runs on a “proof of work” system. This means that the individual or entity mining for PotCoin does not need an all-powerful computer with intense graphics cards, but a certain stake or ownership of the currency to mine it. This eliminates all the expensive hardware associated with the “proof of work” system, and validates the blockchain more efficiently. Through blockchain technology, PotCoins are verified while still efficiently eliminating the double-spending problem. The largest issue that PotCoin faces is one of network scalability and transaction speeds. These are both issues that the development team for PotCoin are fervently trying to solve. Whether or not PotCoin will make its mark on the economy of cannabis is contingent on how the development team addresses these key issues.
With a multitude of states on the path towards the legalization of cannabis, it will be interesting to see whether or not the cannabis industry will adopt PotCoin as a potential solution to the banking quandary and certainly the development issues above will be determinative of whether PotCoin is up to the challenge.
Many are excited about California’s new era of legalized marijuana. For the first time, state and local governments are allowing marijuana sales to all adults. There is also a new licensing system for all sectors of the industry. The new system creates many new opportunities for businesses and consumers. But is also comes with new taxes that have caused sticker shock for many California cannabis operators and customers visiting dispensaries this month. Governments are eager for the new tax revenues, although some predict that if taxes are too high, a black market will persist as people opt out of the licensed system. One of the questions our Los Angeles cannabis attorneys are most frequently asked is about the new cannabis taxes and how they will affect California cannabis businesses.
To sum it up, effective tax rates for marijuana operators are high. Not only do cannabis businesses have to pay corporate taxes like any other business (except that they can't take deductions on their federal taxes due to 280E), but there are also additional city and state taxes specifically for cannabis operators that need to be factored in as well. Just as Federal, State and Local law apply to cannabis operators, those governments all also apply their own taxes to cannabis.
Here is a chart that gives you an overview of the effective tax rates for different cannabis businesses, using Los Angeles as an example for factoring in local taxes as well:
NOTE that the Excise Tax (15%) and Sales Tax (8.5%) imposed on retailers is passed directly on to the consumer. So the effective tax rate is similar to the other activities when you factor that in, but overall the tax rates are very high for operators.
One of the reasons cannabis operators must pay so much in taxes is that cannabis is still a Schedule I controlled substance under Federal Law. Section 162 of the U.S. Tax Code allows for businesses to deduct Ordinary and Necessary expenses from their taxes. An exception to this section is 280E, which prevents deductions from Federal Taxes for businesses involved in selling Schedule I controlled substances. You can read the text of 280E here and check out a seminal 2007 Tax Court decision -- CHAMPS v. Commissioner (2007) which allowed an operating dispensary to separate out product-touching deductions and deductions for a separate ancillary business. A related 2015 ruling in U.S. Tax Court held that unlike CHAMPS, an operator running an activism business and selling cannabis could not separate the two businesses and take deductions under 280. These two cases apply to retailers. Other cases have found that cultivators and manufacturers can take certain deductions for costs of production. We will cover this in a future post.
Here are the individual maximum tax rates that apply:
|Federal Corporate Tax Rate***||California Cannabis Taxes||California Business Taxes 8.84%||Los Angeles Cannabis Taxes||Los Angeles Business Taxes (.425%)||Payroll Taxes (Estimated effective rate)||Estimated Effective Tax Rate|
|Retail||21%||23.5% -- 15% excise tax + 8.5% sales tax||8.84%||10% in LA for adult use; 5% in LA for medical||0.43%||3%****||57%|
|Cultivation*||21%||12% estimated ($9.25/ounce tax on flower = $148 per pound) + $0 sales tax||8.84%||2%||0.43%||3%||45%|
|Manufacturing||21%||Collect Cultivator Tax + $0 sales for resale||8.84%||2%||0.43%||3%||35%|
|Distribution||21%||Pay CDTFA Cultivator Tax + $0 sales for resale||8.84%||1%||0.43%||3%||35%|
|Testing||21% + Deductions = Estimated 15%||-||8.84%||1%||0.43%||3%||34%|
|Microbusiness||21%||per activity||8.84%||per activity||0.43%||3%||Varies per microbusiness activity|
|*(flower - different tax rates for stems and fresh plants; clones are not taxed by state)|
|**280E likely does not apply to testing labs|
|***280E prevents deductions for businesses trafficking cannabis|
|****Social Security, Medicare, Calif & Fed. Unemployment - this is a percentage of employees' salaries, for purposes of the chart it is converted to be tied to revenue consistent with the other percentages|
These are the required California state cannabis taxes by activity:
Cultivators must pay a $9.25/ounce tax on all dried cannabis flowers (and a lower rate per ounce for cannabis leaves or fresh cannabis plant).
Retailers must pay both a 15% excise tax on all their purchases of cannabis, as well as a sales tax on all their taxable retail sales, which varies by locality but can be close to 10%.
Manufacturers must collect cannabis cultivation taxes from cultivators from which they receive unprocessed cannabis, and pay these cultivation taxes to the distributors.
Distributors must collect cultivation taxes from cultivators and manufacturers from which they receive cannabis, and collect cannabis excise taxes from retailers they supply with cannabis.
In addition to these taxes, localities are free to impose their own cannabis business taxes, and many impose substantial taxes on both cultivation and all business proceeds.
It is important to note that the cannabis specific taxes are in addition to standard taxes like Federal and State corporate tax, and local business taxes for businesses operating in cities like Los Angeles.
While distributors, testing facilities and manufacturers appear to pay less taxes than cultivators or retailers, they will no doubt share the costs of taxation as cultivators increase their prices to account for the cultivation tax.
If these taxes are passed directly on to consumers, that could mean a retail outlet previously charging $60 per 1/8 of an ounce of marijuana would increase their price to $90. On the other hand, many have predicted that the pre-tax prices of cannabis will drop over time, as more large-scale cultivation, distribution, and retail operations reduce their overhead costs and margins, would could counteract some of the higher taxes.
For operators, these effective tax rates are extremely high and it is important to consult with a tax attorney and a qualified accountant who can help you with tax planning and preparation to set up your business for success. For more information and worksheets to calculate your California cannabis taxes, refer to the CDTFA’s website.
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?