On December 3, 2019 Four federal agencies (the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) in conjunction with the state bank regulators announced new policy clarifying the legal status of hemp growth and production and the relevant requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) for banks providing services to hemp-related businesses.
Under Federal law (Controlled Substances Act 21 U.S.C. 801) cannabis 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. Hemp was included in this class but with the legalization of Hemp in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill), it was a matter of time before Federal government regulators would catch up.
Changes To Grant Banking Access To Hemp Businesses
The new policy emphasizes that banks are no longer required to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) for customers solely because they are engaged in the growth or cultivation of hemp in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. For hemp-related customers, banks are expected to follow standard SAR procedures, and file a SAR if indicia of suspicious activity warrants.
This new policy provides banks with background information on the legal status of hemp, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) interim final rule on the production of hemp, and the BSA considerations when providing banking services to hemp-related businesses.
This new policy also indicates that FinCEN will issue additional guidance after further reviewing and evaluating the USDA interim final rule.
The full text of the new policy statement can be read here.
Because hemp is no longer a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, banks are not required to file an SAR on customers solely because they are engaged in the growth or cultivation of hemp in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. For hemp-related customers, banks are expected to follow standard SAR procedures, and file an SAR if indicia of suspicious activity warrants.
Still, it may be awhile before banks readily open business to hemp as it is generally a bank’s business decision as to the types of permissible services and accounts to offer, and banks must have a BSA/AML compliance program commensurate with the level of complexity and risks involved. When deciding to serve hemp-related businesses, banks must comply with applicable regulatory requirements for customer identification, suspicious activity reporting, currency transaction reporting, and risk-based customer due diligence, including the collection of beneficial ownership information for legal entity customers.
Higher Taxes Still Remain
While the developments listed above are favorable for hemp-related business, it still remains to be seen when favorable changes will be made to the Internal Revenue Code which treats businesses in the cannabis 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. Cannabis, including medical cannabis, 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.
Reporting Of Cash Payments Still Remain
The 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.
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. So it is best to be proactive and engage an experienced cannabis tax attorney in your area who is highly skilled in the different legal 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), the 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.