Another Cannabis Business Hit Hard By I.R.C. Section 280E In U.S. Tax Court

I.R.C. § 280E disallows all trade or business expense deductions for a cannabis business even though the cannabis business operates legally under state law. As more “280E Tax Audits” make their way up to the U.S. Tax Court, various creative arguments have been made challenging the constitutionality and legality of § 280E. A recent such case where the U.S. Tax Court issued an opinion is Northern California Small Business Assistants Inc. v. Comm’r, 153 T.C. No. 4 (2019).

Northern California Small Business Assistants Inc.

Northern California Small Business Assistants Inc. (“NCSBA”) is a California medical marijuana dispensary that was selected for audit for the 2012 tax year. The IRS agent in carrying out the mandate of § 280E determined a deficiency of over $1.2 million and applied an accuracy-related penalty of $252,842.

NCSBA petitioned the Tax Court, contending that its operations are legal under California law and presenting three novel arguments. First, NCSBA argued that Code Sec. 280E imposes a gross receipts tax as a penalty in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Second, NCSBA argued that the text of § 280E tracks that of § 162, which allows for all ordinary and necessary business expense deductions, suggesting that § 280E limits only § 162 deductions and permits others – specifically, taxes under § 164 and depreciation under § 167. Finally, NCSBA argued that § 280E refers to “trafficking” and therefore does not apply to marijuana businesses operating legally under state law.

The Tax Court rejected all of NCSBA’s arguments. With respect to NCSBA’s Eighth Amendment argument, the Tax Court ruled that, unlike in other contexts where a financial burden was found to be a penalty, disallowing a deduction from gross income is not a punishment. In the court’s view, § 280E was enacted under Congress’s clear authority to tax gross income and is directed at persons who operate a business in violation of state or federal law.

Next, the Tax Court found that § 280E is not limited to trade or business deductions because the plain language of § 280E states that “no deduction or credit shall be allowed” to businesses that traffic in controlled substances. The court noted that § 261 provides that “no deduction” is allowed for items specified in part IX of subchapter B, and § 280E is in part IX. Similarly, § 161 provides that the deductions in part VI of subchapter B, including the deductions in § 164 and § 167, are allowed subject to the exceptions in part IX. Thus, the court found that, clearly, § 164 and § 167 are limited by the exceptions in part IX, including § 280E.

Finally, the Tax Court rejected NCSBA’s argument that the word “trafficking” in § 280E implied that the statute does not apply to a business operating legally under state law. The court noted that it has rejected that argument in several previous cases and that NCSBA offered no compelling reason to overrule those decisions. The court concluded that its precedent is unambiguous and that Congress, not the courts, would need to carve out an exception in § 280E for businesses that operate legally under state law.

The Anti-Federal U.S. Climate

The Federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) 21 U.S.C. § 812 classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Although you can still face federal criminal charges for using, growing, or selling weed in a manner that is completely lawful under California law and other states that have legalized cannabis, the federal authorities in the past have pulled back from targeting individuals and businesses engaged in medical marijuana activities. This pull back though has no impact on the IRS which will likely start in 2019 to more aggressively target cannabis businesses with audits.

Risk Of Getting A Big Tax Bill From IRS That You Cannot Pay

Generally, businesses can deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses under §162. This includes wages, rent, supplies, etc. However, in 1982 Congress added § 280E. Under § 280E, taxpayers cannot deduct any amount for a trade or business where the trade or business consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal law. Marijuana, including medical marijuana, is a controlled substance. What this means is that dispensaries and other businesses trafficking in marijuana have to report all of their income and cannot deduct rent, wages, and other expenses, making their marginal tax rate substantially higher than most other businesses. A cannabis business that has not properly reported its income and expenses and not engaged in the planning to minimize income taxes can face a large liability proposed by IRS reflected on a Notice Of Deficiency or tax bill.

This risk should be risk posing the greatest challenge to any cannabis business as the Federal taxation of cannabis businesses is consistent in all states and not dependent on whether local Federal prosecutors are aggressive in enforcing the illegality of cannabis or the banks unwilling to do business with the cannabis industry. This unexpected liability can put you out of business so it is important to secure qualified tax counsel to be proactive with tax planning to minimize taxes and to defend you in any tax examinations, appeals or litigation with the IRS.

What Should You Do?

While more States are legalizing cannabis, risks to the cannabis industry still exist. Considering the risks of cannabis you need to protect yourself and your investment. Level the playing field and gain the upper hand by engaging the cannabis tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the Inland Empire (including Ontario and Palm Springs) and other California locations. We can come up with solutions and strategies to these risks and protect you and your business to maximize your net profits. And if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

Santa Barbara County Police Shuts Down Illegal Cannabis Operation

Kern County Sheriff’s Office Seizes 10 Million Marijuana Plants In 11 Hemp Fields

Anyone conducting business in cannabis surely knows that under Federal law (Controlled Substances Act 21 U.S.C. 801) marijuana is designated as a Schedule I controlled substance due to the historical belief that it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. So the risk is apparent that at any time Federal authorities could come and shut you down but don’t think that just because cannabis is legal in California, you do not have to worry about the State.

California law mandates that you can only sell cannabis if you have obtained a license to do so. These licenses being issued by the BCC. If you don’t have a license, then selling cannabis or transporting it in order to sell it is still a crime under H&S Code §11360.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office Raids Illegal Cannabis Operation In Arvin

As reported by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office received information about several hemp cultivation sites that were actively cultivating cannabis. The Kern County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), initiated a joint investigation.

On October 25, 2019, a search warrant was executed at eleven different fields in the Arvin area, amounting to over 459 acres of land. Investigators with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics units seized and eradicated approximately 10 million marijuana plants. These plants have an estimated value of over $1 billion on the black market.


These illicit marijuana gardens were grown under the guise of legitimate hemp production. The Food and Agricultural Code and Health and Safety Code define industrial hemp has containing less than 0.3% THC content. The research exemption allows for cultivators to grow and possess hemp/cannabis that is over 0.3% THC content, “if that cultivation or possession contributes to the development of types of industrial hemp that will comply with the three-tenths of 1 percent THC limit established in this division.” This provision does not allow the commercial sale of hemp or cannabis that is over this threshold.


Preliminary testing showed the levels of THC in these fields were well over the legal limit for industrial hemp production and were in fact cannabis. The investigation is ongoing.

In a previous blog we wrote about Governor Gavin Newsom’s promise made in February 2019 to deploy the California National Guard against marijuana grows in California. Multijurisdictional task forces have long been deployed against marijuana grows in California as we noted in the following blogs:

  • Click here on a raid that occurred in the City of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County.
  • Click here on a raid that occurred in the City of Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County.
  • Click here on a raid that occurred in Riverside County.
  • Click here on a raid that occurred in the City of Buellton.

Penalties For Selling Cannabis Without A License.

For most defendants, unlicensed sale or transport for sale of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. For defendants under 18, it is an infraction. Also, giving away or transporting for sale up to 28.5 grams of cannabis without a license is an infraction.

But the sale/transport for sale of cannabis without a license to do so is a felony for the following defendants:

  1. Defendants who have a prior conviction for one of a list of particularly serious violent felonies, including murder, sexually violent offenses, sex crimes against a child under 14, or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or a sex crime that requires them to register as a sex offender;
  1. Defendants who have two or more prior convictions for H&S Code §11360 sale/transportation of cannabis; 
  1. Defendants who knowingly sold, attempted to sell, or offered to sell or furnish cannabis to someone under 18; or
  1. Defendants who imported or attempted or offered to import into California, or transported or attempted/offered to transport out of California for sale, more than 28.5 grams of cannabis or more than four grams of concentrated cannabis.

In any of these scenarios, black market sale or transportation for sale of cannabis under H&S Code §11360 is punishable anywhere from two to four years in jail.

Transporting cannabis without intent to sell it, or giving cannabis away, is not a crime in California so long as BOTH of the following are true:

  1. You transport or give away not more than 28.5 grams of cannabis or eight grams of concentrated cannabis, and
  1. Any people you give cannabis to are 21 years of age or older.

What Should You Do?

You can count on other county governments coordinating resources and making comprehensive strikes on unlicensed and illegal cannabis operations for the safety of the public.

Both civil and criminal penalties will apply to unlicensed operators so it is imperative that anyone cultivating, manufacturing or distributing cannabis on a commercial basis in California seeks a local and state license for their operations immediately, if they have not already done so. Protect yourself and your investment by engaging the cannabis tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the Inland Empire (including Ontario and Palm Springs) and other California locations. We can come up with tax solutions and strategies and protect you and your business and to maximize your net profits. Also, if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

What To Look For In Hiring A Cannabis Tax Lawyer

With the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis in California there has been an increase in inquires to our office by people who are just entering into the cannabis market place or looking to provide services to the cannabis market place or looking to bring an existing cannabis operation into legal compliance. We also have been receiving inquiries from people and businesses who are subject to Federal, State or Local government action including the need for defense of tax evasion charges and money laundering charges.

I.R.C. §280E

Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) 21 U.S.C. § 812, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision; and therefore the CSA prohibits the cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana. Violations carry criminal implications that include incarceration if convicted.

Generally, businesses can deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses under I.R.C. §162. This includes wages, rent, supplies, etc. However, in 1982 Congress added I.R.C. §280E. Under I.R.C. §280E, taxpayers cannot deduct any amount for a trade or business where the trade or business consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal law. Cannabis, including medical marijuana, is a controlled substance. What this means is that dispensaries and other businesses trafficking in cannabis have to report all of their income and cannot deduct rent, wages, and other expenses, making their marginal tax rate substantially higher than most other businesses.

The IRS issued a memo to provide guidance to its agents on conducting audits of cannabis businesses addressing whether an IRS agent can require a taxpayer trafficking in a Schedule 1 controlled substance to change its tax accounting to conform to I.R.C. §280E.

Not surprisingly that the IRS ruled that IRS agents have the authority to change a cannabis business’ method of accounting so that pursuant to I.R.C. §280E costs which should not be included in inventory are not included in Costs Of Goods Sold (“COGS”) and remain non-deductible for income tax purposes.

So Who Are You Going To Call?

Despite the high stakes risk in operating a cannabis business, many new attorneys have entered into the legal cannabis marketplace with mass advertising on the internet offering their services to bring cannabis entrepreneurs into compliance. However, when it is shaping up that the biggest risk in cannabis is dealing with the taxes, who do you call?

Four Things You Should Consider In Making Your List Of Cannabis Tax Attorneys To Call:

  1. When It Comes To Taxes And Business Issues, Only Deal With Cannabis Tax Law Firms. Make sure the company is a cannabis tax law firm and not a general law firm. Cannabis businesses are subject to unfavorable tax provisions and restricted banking provisions which violations carry criminal exposure. Having a cannabis tax attorney as a resource allows all of these issues to be effectively addressed by one firm.
  1. Look At The Cannabis Tax Law Firm’s Practice Area. Check out the firm’s website to determine the cannabis tax attorney’s major practice areas. Do they have information where they talk about new developments by the Federal government, State laws and regulations, local ordinances and other related stuff? Many of them have that in their blog or news area. That way you knew they have some idea and most likely experience in dealing with such cases.
  1. What Access To The Cannabis Tax Attorney Is Being Offered. As most of the stuff can be done via email/phone/mail you do not need to be so focused on where the cannabis tax law firm is located. Instead be focused on securing access to the cannabis tax attorney and that the cannabis tax attorney will be able to access your situation and come up with a plan.
  1. Does The Cannabis Tax Attorney Offer An Initial Strategy Development Session?  While some firms may offer a free initial consultation, you should seek those cannabis tax attorneys who provide an analysis of your situation and communicate a complete strategy in the initial session. Such attorneys will likely charge for that session but the value you get from it should greatly exceed the fee and should allow you to make the right the decision which could save you thousands of dollars and preserve your freedom.

What To Ask The Cannabis Tax Attorney In Your Initial Session?

  • Discuss the situation. Let the attorney know that (a) you did not report income earned your cannabis business and (b) how you have resorted to deal with monetary transactions outside of traditional banking channels. Once you tell that, the attorney should start asking more details. Everything that is discussed should be protected under the attorney-client privilege.
  • The Process.  After hearing your information, the attorney should suggest what he thinks is best in your case and tell you what the process would be like. In your initial session you should let the attorney review any of your relevant documents (i.e., tax returns, financial information, etc.).
  • Charges & Penalty.  Ask the attorney how bad is your situation. Ask how good the chances of you getting cleared from criminal charges are. Ask what can be the maximum penalty and how good are chances of getting penalties waived or reduced. Ask what would be his strategy or reasoning to get relief and minimize your tax burden.
  • Time.  Ask the attorney how long will the entire process take or at least what he expects how long each step or phase could take.
  • Price. Ask the attorney what he would charge for the entire process or at least each step or phase to be pursued. You should find that firms typically charge based on time spent and costs incurred given the many variables involved and sometimes multiple agencies involved. Firms who charge in this manner will usually have different levels of staff whose rates vary based on their level of skill or expertise so you should ask who else would be involved, their rates and impact to the total time charges. Some firms may even offer alternatives that if certain tasks are delegated to you or other third parties such as an accountant, the amount charged by the tax law firm can be less.
  • Experience. Ask the attorney how up to date he is with the most recent changes in cannabis policy on local, state and federal levels and how familiar he is with how various judges, courts and government agencies tend to treat cannabis cases. Check to see that the attorney is Board-Certified In Tax Law. What other credentials does the attorney have – LL.M.(Tax) Degree, C.P.A. License?

How Do You Know Which Cannabis Tax Attorney Is Best For You?

Considering the tax risks of cannabis you need to protect yourself and your investment. Level the playing field and gain the upper hand by engaging the cannabis tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Walnut Creek) and other California locations. We can come up with tax solutions and strategies and protect you and your business and to maximize your net profits. And if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a Bitcoin Attorney can do for you.

Temporary Cannabis Tax Reduction Bill California cannabis

California Cannabis Tax Relief Is Here!

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that will approve cannabis companies for tax deductions that have otherwise been denied them under IRC Section 280E.  This law give legal cannabis businesses a tax break to help them thrive and level the playing field with cannabis businesses that continue to operate in the grey and black markets.

Assembly Bill 37 Was First Introduced December 3, 2018

The legislation, which is sponsored by Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D) provides that for each taxable year beginning on or after January 1, 2020, Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, relating to expenditures in connection with the illegal sale of drugs, shall not apply to the carrying on of any trade or business that is commercial cannabis activity by a licensee. The full text of the legislation can be viewed here.

Now that this Bill is law, it means that under the California Tax Code, cannabis businesses can deduct their operating expenses to arrive at California State taxable income. It still does not change the manner that the IRS taxes cannabis businesses.

Even though 33 states have legalized cannabis for medical or adult use, banks and financial institutions are hesitant to provide services to cannabis businesses because federal law still classifies cannabis as an illegal Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

Higher Federal Taxes Still Remain

While the developments listed above are favorable for California cannabis business, it still remains to be seen when favorable changes will be made to the Internal Revenue Code which treats businesses in the marijuana industry differently resulting in such business paying at least 3-times as much in taxes as ordinary businesses.

Generally, businesses can deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses under I.R.C. §162. This includes wages, rent, supplies, etc. However, in 1982 Congress added I.R.C. §280E. Under §280E, taxpayers cannot deduct any amount for a trade or business where the trade or business consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal law. Marijuana, including medical marijuana, is a controlled substance. What this means is that dispensaries and other businesses trafficking in marijuana have to report all of their income and cannot deduct rent, wages, and other expenses, making their marginal tax rate substantially higher than most other businesses.

Federal Reporting Of Cash Payments Still Remain

The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (“BSA”) requires financial institutions in the United States to assist U.S. government agencies to detect and prevent money laundering. Specifically, the act requires financial institutions to keep records of cash purchases of negotiable instruments, and file reports of cash purchases of these negotiable instruments of more than $10,000 (daily aggregate amount), and to report suspicious activity that might signify money laundering, tax evasion, or other criminal activities. The BSA requires any business receiving one or more related cash payments totaling more than $10,000 to file IRS Form 8300, Report of Cash Payments Over $10,000 Received in a Trade or Business.

The minimum penalty for failing to file EACH Form 8300 is $25,000 if the failure is due to an intentional or willful disregard of the cash reporting requirements. Penalties may also be imposed for causing, or attempting to cause, a trade or business to fail to file a required report; for causing, or attempting to cause, a trade or business to file a required report containing a material omission or misstatement of fact; or for structuring, or attempting to structure, transactions to avoid the reporting requirements. These violations may also be subject to criminal prosecution which, upon conviction, may result in imprisonment of up to 5 years or fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for corporations or both.

Marijuana-related businesses operate in an environment of cash transactions as many banks remain reluctant to do business with many in the marijuana industry. Like any cash-based business the IRS scrutinizes the amount of gross receipts to report and it is harder to prove to the IRS expenses paid in cash. So it is of most importance that the proper facilities and procedures be set up to maintain an adequate system of books and records.

How Do You Know Which Cannabis Tax Attorney Is Best For You?

Given that cannabis is still illegal under existing Federal law you need to protect yourself and your marijuana business from all challenges created by the U.S. government.  While cannabis is legal in California, that is not enough to protect you.  It’s coming down that the biggest risk is TAXES.  Be proactive and engage an experienced Cannabis Tax Attorney in your area. Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County, Inland Empire (Ontario and Palm Springs) and other California locations protect you and maximize your net profits. Also, if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a Bitcoin Tax Attorney can do for you.

 

cannabis-laws

Why Is Taxation Related To Cannabis Businesses So Complicated?

Beware 2019 Could Be A Banner Year For IRS Audits Of Cannabis Businesses.

We previously reported in our blog that the Trump Administration organized a committee of federal agencies from across the government to combat public support for marijuana and cast state legalization measures in a negative light while attempting to portray the drug as a national threat. The IRS appears to be following the agenda of the Trump Administration when it comes to Cannabis and has formed special audit groups that are tasked with conducting cannabis tax audits on medical and recreational cannabis businesses.

I.R.C. § 280E

The Federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) 21 U.S.C. § 812 classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

Generally, businesses can deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses under I.R.C. §162. This includes wages, rent, supplies, etc. However, in 1982 Congress added I.R.C. §280E. Under I.R.C. §280E, taxpayers cannot deduct any amount for a trade or business where the trade or business consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal law. Cannabis, including medical marijuana, is a controlled substance. What this means is that dispensaries and other businesses trafficking in cannabis have to report all of their income and cannot deduct rent, wages, and other expenses, making their marginal tax rate substantially higher than most other businesses.

IRS Guidance On Cannabis.

The IRS issued a memo to provide guidance to its agents on conducting audits of cannabis businesses addressing whether an IRS agent can require a taxpayer trafficking in a Schedule 1 controlled substance to change its tax accounting to conform to I.R.C. §280E.

Not surprisingly that the IRS ruled that IRS agents have the authority to change a cannabis business’ method of accounting so that pursuant to I.R.C. §280E costs which should not be included in inventory are not included in Costs Of Goods Sold (“COGS”) and remain non-deductible for income tax purposes.

Cannabis Tax Audits & Litigation.

It is no surprise that cannabis businesses are proliferating as more States legalize cannabis and make available licenses to grow, manufacture, distribute and sell cannabis. The IRS recognizes this and it is making these cannabis businesses face Federal income tax audits. IRC §280E is at the forefront of all IRS cannabis tax audits and enforcement of §280E could result in unbearable tax liabilities.

Proving deductions to the IRS is a two-step process:
• First, you must substantiate that you actually paid the expense you are claiming.
• Second, you must prove that an expense is actually tax deductible.

Step One: Incurred And Paid The Expense.

For example, if you claim a $5,000 purchase expense from a cannabis distributor, offering a copy of a bill or an invoice from the distributor (if one is even provided) is not enough. It only proves that you owe the money, not that you actually made good on paying the bill. The IRS accepts canceled checks, bank statements and credit card statements as proof of payment. But when such bills are paid in cash as it typical in a cannabis business, you would not have any of these supporting documents but the IRS may accept the equivalent in electronic form.

Step Two: Deductibility Of The Expense.

Next you must prove that an expense is actually tax deductible. For cannabis businesses this is challenging because of the I.R.C. §280E limitation. Recall that under I.R.C. §280E, taxpayers cannot deduct any amount for a trade or business where the trade or business consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal law. What this means is that dispensaries and other businesses trafficking in cannabis have to report all of their income and cannot deduct rent, wages, and other expenses, making their marginal tax rate substantially higher than most other businesses.

A cannabis business can still deduct its Cost Of Goods Sold (“COGS”). Cost of goods sold are the direct costs attributable to the production of goods. For a cannabis reseller this includes the cost of cannabis itself and transportation used in acquiring cannabis. To the extent greater costs of doing business can be legitimately included in COGS that will that result in lower taxable income. You can be sure the IRS agents in audits will be looking closely at what is included in COGS. Working with a cannabis tax attorney can ensure that you receive the proper treatment of COGS versus ordinary and necessary expenses resulting in the lowest possible income tax liability.

In addition to IRS audits, state cannabis audits are also complex and thorough and generally include all taxes specific and nonspecific to the cannabis business. Potentially at risk is the cannabis license that enables the business to operate. State audits will focus on records regarding sales and use tax, excise taxes, and seed-to-sale tracking records.

Now if your cannabis IRS tax audit is not resolved, the results may be challenged and litigated in the U.S. Tax Court or Federal District Court. The U.S. Tax Court has jurisdiction to hear disputes over federal income taxes before final assessment and collections while the Federal District Court generally requires taxpayers to first pay the liability then seek repayment through a refund request.

What Should You Do?

Ultimately it is the tax risk with IRS that could put any cannabis business “out of business” so you need to protect yourself and your investment. Level the playing field and gain the upper hand by engaging the cannabis tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the Inland Empire (Ontario and Palm Springs) and other California locations. We can come up with tax solutions and strategies and protect you and your business and to maximize your net profits.

IRS court ruling

U.S. Tax Court Deals Another Blow To The Cannabis Industry

The Federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) 21 U.S.C. § 812 classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

Generally, businesses can deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses under I.R.C. §162. This includes wages, rent, supplies, etc. However, in 1982 Congress added I.R.C. §280E. Under §280E, taxpayers cannot deduct any amount for a trade or business where the trade or business consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal law.

Under IRC §280E, businesses that are engaged in trafficking controlled substances cannot take regular business deductions, so they end up paying taxes on their gross receipts less their allowed cost of goods sold (COGS). If an expense doesn’t fit into the category of COGS, a company that is considered to be “trafficking” would have to pay taxes as if the expense hadn’t been incurred in the first place. This is why cannabis businesses can end up paying a lot more in taxes than non-cannabis businesses.

One strategy that has been used for cannabis business is to set up operations using multiple companies with one of those companies being a “management company”. Most of the value of having a management company comes from the ability of the management company to get banking and enter into regular electronic transactions with third parties. Also, it was an untested way to avoid the harsh realities of IRC §280E – at least until now…

Alternative Health Care Advocates, et al v. Commissioner Of Internal Revenue

In the case of Alternative Health Care Advocates, et al v. Commissioner Of Internal Revenue, 151 T.C. 13 (Click here for the opinion), Alternative Health Care Advocates, Inc. (“Alternative Health”) operates a medical marijuana dispensary in West Hollywood, California. Related to this corporation is another company, Wellness Management Group, Inc. (“Wellness Management”), which provided management services to Alternative Health. These services included hiring employees and managing HR for those employees, paying wages for those employees, paying advertising expenses, paying rent, etc. Wellness Management did not provide services of that nature or any nature to any other business entity. Wellness Management made money by collecting fees for its services from Alternative Health.

Wellness Management recognized as income the management fees it charged to Alternative Health and Wellness Management deducted its expenses incurred in generating the management fees on the basis that Wellness Management was not engaged in the sale and purchase of marijuana but that it is a management services company that can engage in a separate line of business from the entity it manages.

While Tax Court recognized that Wellness Management and Alternative Health were legally separate entities, it was clear to the Court that Wellness Management’s employees were engaged in the purchase and sale of marijuana (albeit on behalf of Alternative Health); that was Wellness Management’s primary business. The Court did not read the term “trafficking” to require Wellness Management to have had title to the marijuana its employees were purchasing and selling going on further to state that neither IRC §280E nor the nontax statute on trafficking limits application to sales on one’s own behalf rather than on behalf of another. Therefore, the Court concluded that the management service company, Wellness Management, was engaged in the business of “trafficking in controlled substances” during the taxable years at issue and since Wellness Health was unable to identify any portion of its activities being non-related to marijuana activities, none of its expenses would be deductible.

Risk Of Getting A Big Tax Bill From IRS That You Cannot Pay

As long as marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under Federal law, dispensaries and other businesses trafficking in marijuana have to report all of their income and cannot deduct rent, wages, and other expenses, making their marginal tax rate substantially higher than most other businesses. A cannabis business that has not properly reported its income and expenses and not engaged in the planning to minimize income taxes can face a large liability proposed by IRS reflected on a Notice Of Deficiency or tax bill.

This risk should be risk posing the greatest challenge to any cannabis business as the Federal taxation of cannabis businesses is consistent in all states and not dependent on whether local Federal prosecutors are aggressive in enforcing the illegality of cannabis or the banks unwilling to do business with the cannabis industry. This unexpected liability can put you out of business so it is important to secure qualified tax counsel to be proactive with tax planning to minimize taxes and to defend you in any tax examinations, appeals or litigation with the IRS.


What Should You Do?

While more States are legalizing cannabis, risks to the cannabis industry still exist. Considering this risks of cannabis you need to protect yourself and your investment. Level the playing field and gain the upper hand by engaging the cannabis tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Diego County (Carlsbad) and other California locations. We can come up with solutions and strategies to these risks and protect you and your business to maximize your net profits.

IRS tax deductible cannabis business expense court win

Harborside Finally Gets A Win In U.S. Tax Court Getting Tax Penalties Abated

Having been beaten in an opinion issued by the U.S. Tax Court just weeks before where the Court ruled that IRC Section 280E does apply to Harborside (Click here for the Court’s opinion: Patients Mutual Assistance Collective Corp., dba Harborside Health Center v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 151 T.C. 11) which Harborside can appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it was a relief that this same Court ruled that the California dispensary is not liable for accuracy-related 280E penalties. Those penalties would have tacked on another 20% to the tax bill IRS is prepared to send to Harborside if the taxpayer does not appeal the previous decision.

The Anti-Federal U.S. Climate

The Federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) 21 U.S.C. § 812 classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Although you can still face federal criminal charges for using, growing, or selling weed in a manner that is completely lawful under California law and other states that have legalized cannabis, the federal authorities in the past have pulled back from targeting individuals and businesses engaged in medical marijuana activities. This pull back though has no impact on the IRS which will likely start in 2019 to more aggressively target cannabis businesses with audits.

First Harborside Tax Court Opinion – IRS Code 280E will remain in effect for cannabis businesses

The Harborside case involved a dispute over the deductibility of business expenses taken by Harborside Health Center, recognized as the largest marijuana dispensary in the United States by revenue, and the IRS, which was enforcing the provisions of IRC Section 280E. Congress enacted this section back in the 1980’s so that taxpayers engaged in trafficking in a Schedule I or II controlled substances could not deduct any expenses other than Cost Of Goods Sold.

The Harborside dispensary introduced a novel argument about the inapplicability of IRC Section 280E to its activities and focused on two words in this code section – “consists of” – in making the case that this section of law does not apply to them. The Harborside dispensary highlighted the definition of “consists of” as it is used in IRC Section 280E when describing that business expense deductions are not allowed to taxpayers whose business “consists of” trafficking in a Schedule I or II controlled substance.  The Harborside dispensary pointed out, not without merit, that the phrase “consists of” generally introduces an exhaustive list. What this means is that when something is said to “consist of” a list of items, that list of items is the exclusive, exhaustive list, and no other unmentioned items can be said to be included in that list, since the enumerated list contains everything.

The Tax Court spent a considerable amount of time evaluating this argument and acknowledging that it had some merit based upon a review of the dictionary and other legal sources. However, what doomed the Harborside dispensary was the IRS argument, backed by case law, that a legal statute should not be read in such a constrained way so as to render it completely ineffective and toothless. The Tax Court, in ruling for the IRS on this issue, pointed out that if the Harborside dispensary’s reading of IRC Section 280E were correct, a drug dealer who also sold a single pack of gum could not have this same code section applied to him, as that drug dealer’s business would not consist solely of trafficking in a Schedule I or II controlled substance.

But since the Court did not establish a clear test as to when activities other than the sale of cannabis should be taxed differently that activities involving cannabis, there is still hope for cannabis businesses who invest in proper planning now can have the highest chance of prevailing should their tax returns be selected for audit.

Second Harborside Tax Court Opinion – Abatement Of Penalties

With the Tax Court’s previous ruling that IRC Section 280E denies all standard business deductions to businesses whose operations “consist” of activities that violate the CSA, we now turn to the Tax Court’s second opinion on whether Harborside should be subject to accuracy-related penalties.

IRC Section 6662(a) and (b)(1) and (2) imposes a 20% penalty on the portion of an underpayment attributable to any substantial understatement of income tax or negligence or disregard of rules or regulations. Negligence includes any failure to make a reasonable attempt to comply with the provisions of the Code, and disregard includes any careless, reckless, or intentional disregard. Sec. 6662(c). An understatement of a corporation’s income tax is substantial if it exceeds the lesser of $10 million or “10 percent of the tax required to be shown on the return for the taxable year (or, if greater, $10,000).” Sec. 6662(d)(1)(B). A taxpayer can avoid these penalties by showing that it acted with reasonable cause and in good faith. Sec. 6664(c)(1); sec. 1.6664-4(a), Income Tax Regs. To decide whether a taxpayer acted with reasonable cause and in good faith, the Court look at all relevant facts and circumstances, such as the “taxpayer’s effort to assess the taxpayer’s proper tax liability” and his “experience, knowledge, and education.” Sec. 1.6664-4(b)(1), Income Tax Regs.

According to the Opinion issued by the Tax Court (Click here for the opinion: T.C. Memo. 2018-208), Harborside acted “reasonably and in good faith” when taking its tax positions for the years at issue. The Tax Court cited Harborside’s timely filing of its tax returns and its maintenance of accurate financial records as a key strength, along with a persuasive argument from Harborside co-founder and Chairman Emeritus, Steve DeAngelo, that he made good-faith efforts to comply with the law, despite a lack of clear legal authority to guide medical marijuana dispensary taxpayers.

This second ruling is relief for Harborside and shows the importance that with proper planning, taxpayers involved in cannabis should fare better in minimizing liability to IRS.

Risk Of Getting A Big Tax Bill From IRS That You Cannot Pay

Generally, businesses can deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses under I.R.C. §162. This includes wages, rent, supplies, etc. However, in 1982 Congress added I.R.C. §280E. Under §280E, taxpayers cannot deduct any amount for a trade or business where the trade or business consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal law. Marijuana, including medical marijuana, is a controlled substance. What this means is that dispensaries and other businesses trafficking in marijuana have to report all of their income and cannot deduct rent, wages, and other expenses, making their marginal tax rate substantially higher than most other businesses. A cannabis business that has not properly reported its income and expenses and not engaged in the planning to minimize income taxes can face a large liability proposed by IRS reflected on a Notice Of Deficiency or tax bill.

This risk should be risk posing the greatest challenge to any cannabis business as the Federal taxation of cannabis businesses is consistent in all states and not dependent on whether local Federal prosecutors are aggressive in enforcing the illegality of cannabis or the banks unwilling to do business with the cannabis industry. This unexpected liability can put you out of business so it is important to secure qualified tax counsel to be proactive with tax planning to minimize taxes and to defend you in any tax examinations, appeals or litigation with the IRS.


What Should You Do?

While more States are legalizing cannabis, risks to the cannabis industry still exist. Considering this risks of cannabis you need to protect yourself and your investment. Level the playing field and gain the upper hand by engaging the cannabis tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the Inland Empire (including Ontario and Palm Springs) and other California locations. We can come up with solutions and strategies to these risks and protect you and your business to maximize your net profits.