IRS Commissioner Tells Congress That He Prefers Cannabis Businesses Be Able To Pay Taxes Electronically

In a hearing before the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on February 23, 2021, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that the federal agency would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system under federal cannabis prohibition is onerous and presents risks to workers.

Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), who serves as a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that barring marijuana companies from traditional financial services is “inefficient for business and the IRS alike, obviously, not to mention ample opportunity for fraud and abuse it creates, as well as potential for criminal acts as far as robbing and stealing from those.”

Getting Harder For Legal Cannabis To Find Banking

Even though more and more states are allowing the sale of cannabis at the medical and/or recreational level, it is still a business that deals essentially in cash only. Why? Because most traditional banks refuse to deal with any cannabis businesses.  This forces cannabis businesses to seek alternative financial institutions, smaller banks and credit unions that are willing to work with cannabis businesses so that these businesses can pay their expenses and even taxes in a manner more safe and secure than delivering stacks of $20 bills.

Nevertheless, cannabis companies still operate in a legal grey area because cannabis remains illegal under Federal law. Federal law classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has “currently no accepted medical use”. Treating cannabis, no differently than heroin, the Federal government has entrusted the Treasury Department with the authority and responsibility to monitor bank activity to make sure that activities which are illegal under Federal law are not utilizing the banking channels and functions that are normally available.

Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”)

FinCEN is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Director of FinCEN is appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury and reports to the Treasury Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. FinCEN’s mission is to safeguard the financial system from illicit use and combat money laundering and promote national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence and strategic use of financial authorities.

FinCEN carries out its mission by receiving and maintaining financial transactions data; analyzing and disseminating that data for law enforcement purposes; and building global cooperation with counterpart organizations in other countries and with international bodies.

FinCEN exercises regulatory functions primarily under the Currency and Financial Transactions Reporting Act of 1970, as amended by Title III of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. Under this authority the Secretary of the Treasury is to issue regulations requiring banks and other financial institutions to take a number of precautions against financial crime, including the establishment of AML programs and the filing of reports that have been determined to have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, and regulatory investigations and proceedings, and certain intelligence and counter-terrorism matters. This authority has been delegated to FinCEN.

The basic concept underlying FinCEN’s core activities is “follow the money.” As FinCEN believes that the primary motive of criminals is financial gain, and they leave financial trails as they try to launder the proceeds of crimes or attempt to spend their ill-gotten profits. FinCEN shares the information it receives and analyzes with other law enforcement agencies to investigate and hold accountable a broad range of criminals, including perpetrators of fraud, tax evaders, and narcotics traffickers. More recently, the techniques used to follow money trails also have been applied to investigating and disrupting terrorist groups, which often depend on financial and other support networks.

Reporting Of Cash Payments

The Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) enacted in 1970 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.

Cannabis-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. 

Why Banks Are Reluctant To Deal With Cannabis Businesses

Under the Obama administration, then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo, known as the Cole Memorandum that clarified the Justice Department’s stance on cannabis. The memo, from August 29, 2013, asserted that, for the most part, the Justice Department would not enforce the cannabis ban in states that had legalized it. Following that spirit, on February 14, 2014 the Treasury Department issued its own guidance through FinCEN on how banks could provide services to the cannabis industry without violating Federal Law.  As long as banks complied with this guidance, they could avoid the threat of federal prosecution and make themselves available to provide banking and financial services to cannabis businesses.

But under the Trump administration, the Justice Department led by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, calling marijuana “a dangerous drug” and asserting that “marijuana activity is a serious crime”. The Treasury Department led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has yet to revoke the FinCEN guidance which although that guidance referenced the Cole memo multiple times, the guidance still remains a part of the framework by which banks and other financial institutions can make themselves available to do business with the cannabis industry.

Now That We Are In The Biden Administration, Where Does Cannabis Banking Go?

During a confirmation hearing on February 23, 2021 for President Joe Biden’s pick for deputy secretary of the Treasury, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) asked the nominee, Adewale Adeyemo, whether he feels 2014 FinCEN guidance should be updated to “set expectations for financial institutions that provide services to cannabis-related industries” and what steps he would take to that end.

Mr. Adeyemo replied: “I look forward, if confirmed, to talking to my colleagues at Treasury about this important issue and thinking through what changes may be needed and doing this in a way that’s consistent with the interagency with the president’s guidance.”

Today’s Banking Challenge

Despite more states legalizing cannabis, a tiny fraction of banks and alternative financial institutions are willing to work with cannabis companies.  As of September 30, 2020 FinCEN issued a report stating that there were 677 banks and credit unions that filed reports saying they were working with cannabis clients.  Unfortunately this number is down from 695 in the last fiscal quarter ending in June and 711 for the quarter preceding that.

What Should You Do?

It is best to be proactive and engage an experienced board certified tax attorney-CPA in your area who is highly skilled in the different legal, banking and tax issues that cannabis businesses face.  Let the cannabis tax attorneys of the Law Offices of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), Los Angeles 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.

If You Can’t Beat Them Join Them – New York State Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

Democratic Governor Andrew M. Como signed the Marijuana Regulation And Taxation Act (S.854-A/A.1248-A) into law on March 31, 2021 – $2.5 billion market expected.

Governor Como’s office in a press release stated that the development of an adult-use cannabis industry in New York State under this legislation has the potential to create significant economic opportunities for New Yorkers and the State. Tax collections from the adult-use cannabis program are projected to reach $350 million annually. Additionally, there is the potential for this new industry to create 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs across the State.

“This is a historic day in New York – one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits.” Governor Cuomo said. “This was one of my top priorities in this year’s State of the State agenda and I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis. I thank both the Leader and the Speaker, and the tireless advocacy of so many for helping make today’s historic day possible.”

Key Provisions To New York’s Marijuana Regulation And Taxation Act:

Focus on social equity – The State intends to issue 50% of adult-use licenses to social and economic equity applicants.

Boost to medical cannabis – Allows for additional dispensaries, additional patient access and more products to strengthen the medical cannabis market.

Taxes, local opt-outsCannabis products would be taxed at 13%, of which 9% would go to the state and 4% to localities.  An additional tax would be imposed on production as follows: 0.5 cents per milligram for flower, 0.8 cents per milligram for concentrated cannabis and 3 cents per milligram for edibles. Cities, towns and villages could opt out of retail sales.

Regulation and oversightThe measure establishes an Office of Cannabis Management with an executive director, a chief equity officer and a five-member board. The office would have the authority to evaluate license applications using metrics such as social equity status, commitment to environmentally sound practices, public health and fair labor practices. In addition, a state Cannabis Advisory Board would be established to make policy recommendations on such things as licensing and grant approvals from the Community Reinvestment Fund.

New York State adds to an existing group of 11 states and Washington, D.C. that have legalized recreational cannabis, and adds to an existing group of 33 states that have legalized it for medical purposes.  Additionally, last year two new states joined the movement with South Dakota voters adopting legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis and Mississippi voters adopting legalization of medical cannabis use.

With about 37 states now legalizing some form of cannabis use, you would think that it is now time for the Federal government to change course.

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, the federal authorities in the past have pulled back from targeting individuals and businesses engaged in medical marijuana activities. This pull back came from Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Safe Harbor Guidelines issued in 2013 under what is known as the “Cole Memo”.

The Cole Memo included eight factors for prosecutors to look at in deciding whether to charge a medical marijuana business with violating the Federal law:

  • Does the business allow minors to gain access to marijuana?
  • Is revenue from the business funding criminal activities or gangs?
  • Is the marijuana being diverted to other states?
  • Is the legitimate medical marijuana business being used as a cover or pretext for the traffic of other drugs or other criminal enterprises?
  • Are violence or firearms being used in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana?
  • Does the business contribute to drugged driving or other adverse public health issues?
  • Is marijuana being grown on public lands or in a way that jeopardizes the environment or public safety?
  • Is marijuana being used on federal property?

Since 2013, these guidelines provided a level of certainty to the marijuana industry as to what point could you be crossing the line with the Federal government.  But on January 4, 2018, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the Cole Memo.  Now U.S. Attorneys in the local offices throughout the country retain broad prosecutorial discretion as to whether to prosecute cannabis businesses under federal law even though the state that these businesses operate in have legalized some form of marijuana.

Joyce-Blumenauer Amendment (previously referred to as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment)

Building on the DOJ’s issuance of the Cole Memo, in 2014 the House passed an amendment to the yearly federal appropriations bill that effectively shields medical marijuana businesses from federal prosecution. Proposed by Representatives Rohrabacher and Farr, the amendment forbids federal agencies to spend money on investigating and prosecuting medical marijuana-related activities in states where such activities are legal.

The amendment states that:

NONE OF THE FUNDS MADE AVAILABLE UNDER THIS ACT TO THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE MAY BE USED, WITH RESPECT TO ANY OF THE STATES OF ALABAMA, ALASKA, ARIZONA, ARKANSAS, CALIFORNIA, COLORADO, CONNECTICUT, DELAWARE, FLORIDA, GEORGIA, HAWAII, ILLINOIS, INDIANA, IOWA, KENTUCKY, LOUISIANA, MAINE, MARYLAND, MASSACHUSETTS, MICHIGAN, MINNESOTA, MISSISSIPPI, MISSOURI, MONTANA, NEVADA, NEW HAMPSHIRE, NEW JERSEY, NEW MEXICO, NEW YORK, NORTH CAROLINA, NORTH DAKOTA, OHIO, OKLAHOMA, OREGON, PENNSYLVANIA, RHODE ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA, TENNESSEE, TEXAS, UTAH, VERMONT, VIRGINIA, WASHINGTON, WEST VIRGINIA, WISCONSIN, AND WYOMING, OR WITH RESPECT TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, GUAM, OR PUERTO RICO, TO PREVENT ANY OF THEM FROM IMPLEMENTING THEIR OWN LAWS THAT AUTHORIZE THE USE, DISTRIBUTION, POSSESSION, OR CULTIVATION OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA.

This action by the House is not impacted by the change of position by the DOJ. However, unless this amendment gets included in each succeeding federal appropriations bill, the protection from Federal prosecution of medical marijuana businesses will no longer be in place.  Fortunately, Congress has included this amendment but yet has changed any of the tax or banking laws that pose challenges to the cannabis industry.

Clearly, to avail yourself of the protections of the amendment, you must be on the medical cannabis side and you must be in complete compliance with your State’s medical cannabis laws and regulations. You may not be covered under the amendment if you are involved in the recreational cannabis side even if legal in the State you are operating.

What Should You Do?

Given the illegal status of cannabis under Federal law you need to protect yourself and your marijuana business from all challenges created by the U.S. government.  Although cannabis is legal in California, that is not enough to protect you. 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.  And if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

 

2020 Taxes For California Cannabis – What You Need To Know

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.

Yes – Cannabis Businesses Have to Report Income To IRS And Pay Taxes!

While the sale of cannabis is legal in California as well as in a growing number of states, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 narcotic under Federal law, the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) 21 U.S.C. § 812. As such businesses in the cannabis industry are not treated like ordinary businesses. Despite state laws allowing cannabis, it remains illegal on a federal level but cannabis businesses are obligated to pay federal income tax on income because I.R.C. §61(a) does not differentiate between income derived from legal sources and income derived from illegal sources.

Deductibility Of Expenses By Cannabis 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 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.

For taxable years starting on or after January 1, 2019, California law provides that I.R.C. §280E shall not apply to the carrying on of any trade or business that is commercial cannabis activity by a licensee. The full text of Assembly Bill 37 can be viewed here. What this means is 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.

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.

Tips For Cannabis Tax Return Preparation

Here are some tips for cannabis businesses to follow in the preparation of their 2019 tax returns.

  • Reconcile Your Books Before Closing Your Books. Incomplete books can cause delays and add unnecessary complexities.
  • Utilize A Cannabis Tax Professional. Engage a tax professional who has experience in the cannabis industry. Such a professional would be familiar with the intricacies of IRC Sec. 280E and relevant cases to make the proper presentation on the tax return in a manner that would support the smaller tax liability possible.
  • Justify Your Numbers As If An IRS Audit Is A Certainty. Don’t wait to receive a notice from IRS that the tax return is selected for examination.  That can be one or two years away.  Instead make it a point to put together the backup to you numbers now while everything is fresh.

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.  Also, if you are involved in crypto-currency, check out what a Bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

When Facing An IRS Tax Audit, How Do Marijuana Businesses Explain To IRS A Cash Stash Accumulated From The Past?

With the proliferation of licensed cannabis businesses sprouting in the State Of California and a growing number of States, a lot of cannabis business will be filing tax returns with the IRS for the first time. But beware, the IRS is well aware that successful cannabis businesses don’t just sprout overnight and now that your business is on the radar screen you can bet that the IRS will be inquiring how you accumulated all that cash before 2020. We refer to this accumulation of cash as “legacy cash”.

The Internal Revenue Service released updated guidance on tax policy for the cannabis industry.  The new guidance briefly covers the rules for income reporting, cash payment options, estimating tax payments and keeping financial records.

The IRS guidance states “A key component in promoting the highest degree of voluntary compliance on the part of taxpayers is helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities while also enforcing the law with integrity and fairness to all.”

This update appears to be in response to a Treasury Department report that was released in April 2020 where the Treasury Department’s Inspector General For Tax Administration had criticized IRS for failing to adequately advise taxpayers in the marijuana industry about compliance with federal tax laws. And it directed the agency to “develop and publicize guidance specific to the marijuana industry.”

Legacy Cash Is A Big Problem For Successful Cannabis Businesses

In the early days of cannabis operations, the biggest issue was what to do with all the cash? Cash is bulky and risky, but you have to do something with it and cannabis entrepreneurs can’t just take it to their local bank and make a deposit like every other kind of business can. So what have cannabis entrepreneurs been doing for all these years? For the most part they are keep the cash and where that income was never reported on prior tax returns, they now run the risk of being caught by IRS and prosecuted for tax evasion.

Yes – Marijuana Businesses Have to Report Income To IRS And Pay Taxes!

While the sale of cannabis is legal in California as well as in a growing number of states, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 narcotic under Federal law, the Controlled Substances Act. As such businesses in the cannabis industry are not treated like ordinary businesses. Despite state laws allowing cannabis, it remains illegal on a federal level but cannabis businesses are obligated to pay federal income tax on income because I.R.C. §61(a) does not differentiate between income derived from legal sources and income derived from illegal sources.

The Sixteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the Federal government from taxing “gross receipts”. In Edmondson vs. Commissioner, 42 T.C.M. (CCH) 1533 (T.C. 1981), the Tax Court decided that Jeffrey Edmonson, self-employed in the trade or business of selling amphetamines, cocaine, and cannabis, was permitted to deduct his business expenses resulting from his trade. Discomforted by this outcome, the following year Congress enacted I.R.C. §280E, disallowing all deductions and credits for amounts paid or incurred in the illegal trafficking in drugs listed in the Controlled Substances Act.

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 cannabis, is a controlled substance. While I.R.C. §280E disallows cannabis-related businesses to deduct “ordinary and necessary” business expenses, it would be unconstitutional for the IRS to disallow businesses to deduct Cost Of Goods Sold when calculating gross income. This concept was first applied in the Tax Court case of Olive vs. Commissioner Of Internal Revenue, 139 T.C. 19 (2012).

I.R.C. Section 280E IRS Tax Audits

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 a cannabis businesses this is challenging because of the I.R.C. §280E limitation; however 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.

Appealing An I.R.C. Section 280E IRS Tax Audit

Now if your cannabis IRS tax audit is not resolved, the results may be challenged. After the Revenue Agent has concluded the tax examination, the agent will issue a copy of the examination report explaining the agent’s proposed changes along with notice of your appeals rights. Pay attention to the type of letter that is included as it will dictate the appeals process available to you.

The “30-day letter”

The “30-day letter” gives you the right to challenge the proposed adjustment in the IRS Office Of Appeals. To do this, you need to file a Tax Protest within 30 days of the date of the notice. The Appeals Office is the only level of appeal within the IRS and is separate from and independent of the IRS office taking the action you disagree with. Conferences with Appeals Office personnel are held in an informal manner by correspondence, by telephone, or at a personal conference.

The “Notice Of Deficiency”

If the IRS does not adopt your position, it will send a notice proposing a tax adjustment (known as a statutory notice of deficiency). The statutory notice of deficiency gives you the right to challenge the proposed adjustment in the United States Tax Court before paying it. To do this, you need to file a petition within 90 days of the date of the notice (150 days if the notice is addressed to you outside the United States). If you filed your petition on time, the court will eventually schedule your case for trial at the designation place of trial you set forth in your petition. Prior to trial you should have the opportunity to seek a settlement with IRS Area Counsel and in certain cases, such settlement negotiations could be delegated to the IRS Office Of Appeals. If there is still disagreement and the case does go to trial, you will have the opportunity to present your case before a Tax Court judge. The judge after hearing your case and reviewing the record and any post-trial briefs will render a decision in the form of an Opinion. It could take as much as two years after trial before an Opinion issued. If the Opinion is not appealed to a Circuit Court Of Appeals, then the proposed deficiency under the Opinion is final and your account will be sent to IRS Collections.

IRS Area Counsel are experienced trial attorneys working for the IRS whose job is to litigate cases in the U.S. Tax Court and look out for the best interests of the Federal government. So to level the playing field, it would be prudent for a taxpayer to hire qualified tax counsel as soon as possible to seek a mutually acceptable resolution without the need for trial, and if that does not happen, to already have the legal expertise in place to vigorously defend you at trial.

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.

Why Is Taxation Related To Cannabis Businesses So Complicated?

Beware 2020 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.

Yes – Cannabis Businesses Have to Report Income To IRS And Pay Taxes!

While the sale of cannabis is legal in California as well as in a growing number of states, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 narcotic under Federal law, the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) 21 U.S.C. § 812. As such businesses in the cannabis industry are not treated like ordinary businesses. Despite state laws allowing cannabis, it remains illegal on a federal level but cannabis businesses are obligated to pay federal income tax on income because I.R.C. §61(a) does not differentiate between income derived from legal sources and income derived from illegal sources.

I.R.C. § 280E

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.

Tips For Cannabis Tax Return Preparation

Here are some tips for cannabis businesses to follow in the preparation of their 2019 tax returns.

  • Reconcile Your Books Before Closing Your Books. Incomplete books can cause delays and add unnecessary complexities.
  • Utilize A Cannabis Tax Professional. Engage a tax professional who has experience in the cannabis industry. Such a professional would be familiar with the intricacies of IRC Sec. 280E and relevant cases to make the proper presentation on the tax return in a manner that would support the smaller tax liability possible.
  • Justify Your Numbers As If An IRS Audit Is A Certainty. Don’t wait to receive a notice from IRS that the tax return is selected for examination. That can be one or two years away. Instead make it a point to put together the backup to you numbers now while everything is fresh.

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. Also, if you are involved in crypto-currency, check out what a Bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

Why Hire A Tax Attorney If You Are In U.S. Tax Court For IRC Sec. 280E?

Why Hire A Tax Attorney If You Are In U.S. Tax Court For IRC Sec. 280E?

IRS Tax Audits in the cannabis industry can be quite tricky. We previously wrote a blog on appealing these audits.

If you are involved in cannabis and dealing with an IRC Sec. 280E or other tax liability issue with the IRS and you are unable to reach a satisfactory resolution working with the IRS directly, then you may need to seek relief in the United States Tax Court. The U.S. Tax Court has jurisdiction over matters involving individual and business tax liability under the Internal Revenue Code, and, while individual taxpayers have the option to appear before the court pro se, most Tax Court litigants will benefit greatly from hiring a Board Certified Tax Attorney to represent them.

What Is The United States Tax Court?

The United States Tax Court is a Federal trial court. Because it is a court of record, a record is made of all its proceedings. It is an independent judicial forum. It is not controlled by or connected with the IRS. Congress pursuant to its authority under Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution created the Tax Court as an independent judicial authority for taxpayers disputing certain IRS determinations. The Tax Court’s authority to resolve these disputes is called its jurisdiction. Generally, a taxpayer may file a petition in the Tax Court in response to certain IRS determinations. A taxpayer who begins such a proceeding is known as the “petitioner”, and the Commissioner of Internal Revenue is the “respondent”.

Although the Tax Court is headquartered in Washington, D.C., its judges preside at trials in 60 U.S. cities, and its Special Trial Judges preside at trials in those cities and 15 additional cities.

How Do You Start A Case In The U.S. Tax Court?

If a taxpayer and the IRS do not agree to the findings of a tax examination, the IRS will send a notice proposing a tax adjustment (known as a “statutory notice of deficiency”). The statutory notice of deficiency gives you as the taxpayer the right to challenge the proposed adjustment in the U.S. Tax Court before paying it. To do this, you need to file a petition within 90 days of the date of the notice (150 days if the notice is addressed to you outside the United States). If you filed your petition on time, the Tax Court will eventually schedule your case for trial at the designation place of trial you set forth in your petition. Prior to trial you should have the opportunity to seek a settlement with IRS Area Counsel and in certain cases, such settlement negotiations could be delegated to the IRS Office Of Appeals.

If there is still disagreement and the case does go to trial, you will have the opportunity to present your case before a Tax Court judge. The judge after hearing your case and reviewing the record and any post-trial briefs will render a decision in the form of an Opinion. It could take as much as two years after trial before an Opinion issued. If the Opinion is not appealed to a Circuit Court Of Appeals, then the proposed deficiency under the Opinion is final and your account will be sent to IRS Collections.

IRS Area Counsel are experienced trial attorneys working for the IRS whose job is to litigate cases in the U.S. Tax Court and look out for the best interests of the Federal government. Therefore, to level the playing field, it would be prudent for a taxpayer to hire qualified tax counsel as soon as possible to seek a mutually acceptable resolution without the need for trial, and if that does not happen, to already have the legal expertise in place to vigorously defend you at trial.

Reasons To Hire A Board Certified Tax Attorney

For a professional to be good at what he/she does, training and experience are necessary. The more real work experience you get, the more skilled you will be at your job. Most people do not have the adequate legal and tax knowledge to attend hearings or go to U.S. Tax Court without a Board Certified Tax Attorney present. Here are some other benefits of working with one.

Peace of mind

Although you can represent yourself in U.S. Tax Court, you may end up regretting it, especially if the outcome is not good. Having a Board Certified Tax Attorney with you will give you peace of mind irrespective of the case you are faced with. You can be confident that your case is being handled by someone who understands your legal and tax problems better and they will handle your case with utmost professionalism. Additionally, resolving complex tax issues, especially those involving IRC Sec. 280E, requires much more than simply finding the relevant provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. A Board Certified Tax Attorney will be able to conduct the necessary legal research to build a convincing (and legally-sound) argument for the best possible result.

Avoid incriminating yourself

Seasoned tax attorneys will spend time coaching their clients on how to behave and speak while in the U.S. Tax Court. This is important because the behavior and candor of a taxpayer in the courtroom can have tremendous effects on the case. A Board Certified Tax Attorney will go out of his/her way to ensure that you do not incriminate yourself whenever you speak in the Tax Court.

Reduce risks

Getting representation from a Board Certified Tax Attorney will boost the chances of keep your case on track to reaching the best possible result. A Board Certified Tax Attorney has experience handling tax cases in the U.S. Tax Court and they will handle any emerging issues before they become major problems for your case. When things get tough, you will be sure that your tax lawyer has the expertise and specialized training to handle the problem.

Conversant with all court procedures and rules

After filing a petition in the U.S. Tax Court, there are various time, form, and other procedural requirements that apply. An attorney who regularly practices before the Tax Court will be intimately familiar with these issues and will be able to ensure that procedural miscues do not jeopardize your case. Adhering to these procedures is crucial to the outcome of your case.

During your U.S. Tax Court case, the IRS through its counsel may file various motions to try to resolve the case with a finding of liability prior to trial. A Board Certified Tax Attorney will be able to interpret the substantive and strategic intent behind these motions and file appropriate responses with the Tax Court.

In many cases, issues that require resolution in the U.S. Tax Court will have ancillary legal implications as well. A Board Certified Tax Attorney will be able to identify these issues and address them before they lead to unnecessary costs and exposure.

Saving you money

Given the costly legal fees that people pay, it is difficult to believe that a Board Certified Tax Attorney can help you save cash. Most cases filed with the U.S. Tax Court settle. Should you settle your case? If so, when? A Board Certified Tax Attorney will be able to rely on the insights gained from numerous prior U.S. Tax Court cases to help you make informed decisions regarding settling or taking your case to trial.

What Should You Do?

When faced with litigation in the U.S. Tax Court, you need a tax lawyer by your side. 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.

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.