Why Taxpayers Involved In Offshore Accounts, Cryptocurrency Or Cannabis Should Be Filing An Extension For Their 2021 Income Tax Returns.

Why Taxpayers Involved In Offshore Accounts, Cryptocurrency Or Cannabis Should Be Filing An Extension For Their 2021 Income Tax Returns.

If you did not report your offshore accounts, cryptocurrency income or cannabis income earned before 2021, you should hold off on filing your 2021 taxes and instead file an extension.

An extension is your way of asking the IRS for additional time to file your tax return. The IRS will automatically grant you an additional time to file your return. While State Tax Agencies will also provide the same extension period, you need to check with your State to see if an extension must be filed with the State as well.  For example, California does not require that a State extension be filed as long as you timely file the Federal extension AND you will not owe any money to the State.

The deadline to file your 2021 federal individual income tax returns or request an extension of time to file the tax return is Monday, April 18, 2022 (normally would have been April 15th but for the observance of the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia).  Taxpayers in Maine or Massachusetts have until April 19, 2022, to file their returns due to the observance of the Patriots’ Day holiday in those states. A timely filed extension will extend the filing deadline to Monday, October 17, 2022 thus giving you an extra six months to meet with tax counsel and determine how to address your pre-2021 tax reporting delinquencies and/or exposure and how to present your situation on your 2021 tax return.

While an extension gives you extra time to file your return, an extension does not give you extra time to pay your tax and if you do not pay what you owe with the extension, you will still be ultimately charged with late payment penalties when you file your tax return.

Offshore Accounts

Where a taxpayer does not come forward voluntarily though a Voluntary Disclosure Program and has now been targeted by IRS for failing to file the Foreign Bank Account Reports (FBAR), the IRS may now assert FBAR penalties that could be either non-willful or willful.  Both types have varying upper limits, but no floor.  The first type is the non-willful FBAR penalty.  The maximum non-willful FBAR penalty is $10,000.  The second type is the willful FBAR penalty.  The maximum willful FBAR penalty is the greater of (a) $100,000 or (b) 50% of the total balance of the foreign account.  In addition, the IRS can pursue criminal charges with the willful FBAR penalty.  The law defines that any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).

For the non-willful penalty, all the IRS has to show is that an FBAR was not filed.  Whether the taxpayer knew or did not know about the filing of this form is irrelevant.  The non-willful FBAR penalty is $10,000 per account, per year and so a taxpayer with multiple accounts over multiple years can end up with a huge penalty.

Since 2009, the IRS Criminal Investigation has indicted 1,545 taxpayers on criminal violations related to international activities, of which 671 taxpayers were indicted on international criminal tax violations.

Cryptocurrency

Many taxpayers think that their crypto transactions would remain a secret forever.  Digital exchanges are not broker-regulated by the IRS. Digital exchanges are not obligated to issue a 1099 form, nor are they obligated to report to the IRS calculate gains or cost basis for the trader. But that is now all changing sooner than you think!

As of March 16, 2018, the IRS has received information from Coinbase located in San Francisco which is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States disclosing the names, addresses and tax identification numbers on 14,355 account holders. Coinbase pursuant to a Court Order issued by a Federal Magistrate Judge (United States v. Coinbase, Inc., United States District Court, Northern District Of California, Case No.17-cv-01431) had to produce the following customer information over the period of 2013 to 2015: (1) taxpayer ID number, (2) name, (3) birth date, (4) address, (5) records of account activity, including transaction logs or other records identifying the date, amount, and type of transaction (purchase/sale/exchange), the post transaction balance, and the names of counterparties to the transaction, and (6) all periodic statements of account or invoices (or the equivalent).

Furthermore, Coinbase starting with the 2017 tax years will be issuing 1099-K tax forms for some of its U.S. clients.  The IRS will receive copies of these forms.

Following the success of the results of a John Doe Summons issued to Coinbase, Inc. as I previously reported, on April 1, 2021 the U.S. Department Of Justice announced that a federal court in the District of Massachusetts entered an order today authorizing the IRS to serve a John Doe summons on Circle Internet Financial Inc., or its predecessors, subsidiaries, divisions, and affiliates, including Poloniex LLC (collectively “Circle”), seeking information about U.S. taxpayers who conducted at least the equivalent of $20,000 in transactions in cryptocurrency during the years 2016 to 2020. The IRS is seeking the records of Americans who engaged in business with or through Circle, a digital currency exchanger headquartered in Boston.

With only several hundred people reporting their crypto gains each year, the IRS suspects that many crypto users have been evading taxes by not reporting crypto transactions on their tax returns.

Cannabis

Over 300,000 Americans now work in the legal cannabis industry – these workers were declared “essential” during the COVID emergency. In the past few weeks, three more states have legalized bringing the total number of adult-use states to 18, along with the 37 medical states and the District of Columbia.  There are also 6 tribal nations and most of the U.S. territories that have legalized cannabis.  With the proliferation of licensed cannabis businesses sprouting across the country, a continued stream of cannabis business will be filing tax returns with the IRS.  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 2021.

Cannabis is categorized as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. While more than half of the states in the U.S. have legalized some form of medicinal marijuana, and several others have passed laws permitting recreational cannabis use, under federal drug laws the sale of cannabis remains illegal.

Despite the disparity and Federal and State law, marijuana businesses still have to pay taxes.

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.  Likewise, where a taxpayer over the years has accumulated cash from cannabis sales and never reported any income to the IRS, you are looking at a serious problem.

Penalties For Filing A False Income Tax Return Or Under-reporting Income 

Failure to report all the money you make is a main reason folks end up facing an IRS auditor. Carelessness on your tax return might get you whacked with a 20% penalty. But that’s nothing compared to the 75% civil penalty for willful tax fraud and possibly facing criminal charges of tax evasion that if convicted could land you in jail.

Criminal Fraud – The law defines that any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).

The term “willfully” has been interpreted to require a specific intent to violate the law (U.S. v. Pomponio, 429 U.S. 10 (1976)). The term “willfulness” is defined as the voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty (Cheek v. U.S., 498 U.S. 192 (1991)).

And even if the IRS is not looking to put you in jail, they will be looking to hit you with a big tax bill with hefty penalties.

Civil Fraud – Normally the IRS will impose a negligence penalty of 20% of the underpayment of tax (Code Sec. 6662(b)(1) and 6662(b)(2)) but violations of the Internal Revenue Code with the intent to evade income taxes may result in a civil fraud penalty. In lieu of the 20% negligence penalty, the civil fraud penalty is 75% of the underpayment of tax (Code Sec. 6663). The imposition of the Civil Fraud Penalty essentially doubles your liability to the IRS!

What Should You Do?

Individual taxpayers can file an extension using Form 4868. Extensions can also be filed online, which has the benefit that you’ll receive a confirmation code from the IRS notifying you that your extension was received.  Then you should promptly contact tax counsel.  Don’t delay because once the IRS has targeted you for investigation – even if it is a routine random audit – it will be too late voluntarily come forward. Let the tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), Los Angeles and offices elsewhere in California get you set up with a plan that may include being qualified into a voluntary disclosure program to avoid criminal prosecution, seek abatement of penalties, and minimize your tax liability. If you are involved in cannabis, check out what else a cannabis tax attorney can do for you. Also, if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a Bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

Police Uncover Illegal Grow Operation In Santa Ana Seize More Than 5,000 Marijuana Plants

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 especially if you are growing cannabis on Federal lands.

Raid in Santa Ana, California

On January 27, 2022 the City Of Santa Ana Police Department issued a tweet that they assisted Code Enforcement Inspectors in raiding a suspected illegal cannabis cultivation in the area of 400 East Dyer Road.  Detectives obtained a search warrant, which was served by Metropolitan Detectives.  Detectives discovered an illegal large-scale commercial cannabis cultivation operation. Detectives located 11 grow rooms, 2 dry rooms & seized over 5,000 plants. Code Enforcement inspectors also red-tagged the building for several dangerous & illegal building modifications. There is no word of any arrests. The case remains under investigation.

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.

California State Penalties For Selling Cannabis Without A License.

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.

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;
  2. Defendants who have two or more prior convictions for H&S Code §11360 sale/transportation of cannabis;
  3. Defendants who knowingly sold, attempted to sell, or offered to sell or furnish cannabis to someone under 18; or
  4. 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
  2. Any people you give cannabis to are 21 years of age or older.

What Should You Do?

You can count on all level of government coordinating resources and making comprehensive strikes on unlicensed and illegal cannabis operations for the safety of the public or to enforce the Federal prohibition.

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 a cannabis tax attorney 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 cryptocurrency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

IRS Providing Resources To Help Cannabis Businesses Meet Their Tax Responsibilities

You should know that when the IRS wants to talk about a particular business sector that it is usually a sign that such business sector is identified as having a high potential for non-compliance and thus more tax revenues.

On September 27, 2021, De Lon Harris, the Commissioner of the IRS Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE) Examination Division, published a blog on the IRS website discussing how his division is focusing on is the tax implications for the rapidly growing cannabis/marijuana industry.  Even though at last count, 36 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, or both, it’s still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law. That means a cannabis/marijuana business has additional considerations under the law, creating unique challenges for members of the industry.  Specifically, these businesses are often cash intensive since many can’t use traditional banks to deposit their earnings. It also creates unique challenges for the IRS on how to support these new business owners and still promote tax compliance.

Commissioner Harris’ states that while IRS Code Section 280E is clear that all the deductions and credits aren’t allowed for an illegal business, there’s a caveat: Marijuana business owners can deduct their cost of goods sold, which is basically the cost of their inventory. What isn’t deductible are the normal overhead expenses, such as advertising expenses, wages and salaries, and travel expenses, to name a few.

Change In The IRS’ Perception Of Cannabis 

In January 2015, 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 IRC section 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 IRC section 280E costs which should not be included in inventory are not included in Cost Of Goods Sold (“COGS”) and remain non-deductible for income tax purposes.

On March 30, 2020, the Treasury Inspector General For Tax Administration (TIGTA) released a report to the IRS pointing them toward targeting the state-licensed cannabis industry for lost tax revenue.  The IRS has said it will implement certain recommendations in this report, specifically:

  • Develop a comprehensive compliance approach for the cannabis industry, including a method to identify businesses in this industry and track examination results;
  • Leverage publically available information at the State level and expand the use of existing Fed/State agreements to identify nonfilers and unreported income in the cannabis industry; and
  • Increase educational outreach towards unbanked taxpayers making cash deposits regarding the unbanked relief policies available.

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.

IRS Published Guidance For Cannabis Businesses

The IRS has created a page on its website IRS.gov/marijuana, which includes links to information on:

  • IRC Section 280E
  • Income reporting
  • Cash payment options
  • Reporting large cash receipts
  • Estimated payments
  • Keeping good records

The IRS also posted frequently asked questions on IRS.gov to answer questions commonly asked by those in the cannabis/marijuana industry.

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 section 280E is at the forefront of all IRS cannabis tax audits and enforcement of section 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 IRC section 280E limitation. Recall that under IRC section 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 2020 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), Los Angeles 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.

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.