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 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 email@example.com to speak with one of our Los Angeles cannabis lawyers.
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 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?
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.
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, to speak with one of our cannabis attorneys.
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 220.127.116.11) 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.
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.