The shredding of the Cole memo last month leaves the cannabis industry in an uncertain regulatory environment.
Industry-wide anxiety of this sort can sometimes breed business disputes that wind up in litigation. Besides being expensive, defending a lawsuit from a business partner, investor, supplier, or employee can be a major distraction from your business goals.
If tensions are simmering in your company, maybe it’s time to address any legal loose ends governing your business relationships. Virtually every lawsuit ever filed could have been avoided had the parties identified sources of conflict early and attempted to resolve their differences.
Here are some key questions to help identify whether legal issues may be bubbling beneath the surface of your cannabis business.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions today rescinded the Cole Memorandum, which had directed the federal justice department to de-prioritize the prosecution of federal marijuana laws in states where the use of marijuana has been legalized under state law if state enforcement procedures were in line with certain specified law enforcement priorities.
All eyes in the medical cannabis industry are watching a December deadline faced by Congress. A short-term funding deal signed into law on September 8 by President Donald Trump not only kept the government running, it also preserved an existing provision known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment that prohibited the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. That deal will expire on December 8, and Congress will have to approve a new version of the amendment if the protections are to remain in the next spending bill.
The House Appropriations Committee released the 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill on May 1 as part of the fiscal year. Congress decided to continue the 2015 rider that prohibits the Department of Justice from spending funds to prevent state implementation of their medical marijuana laws. The new rider expires on September 30, 2017, the end of the fiscal year, unless it is included in the next appropriations bill. Past legislative actions suggest its continuation is more likely than not.
Justice Department has options to crack down, but may galvanize the push for even wider legalization
In statements that were perhaps inevitable but nonetheless surprising to the cannabis industry, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on February 23, 2017, provided the first official comments on how the Trump administration may address recreational marijuana.
Responding to a question from an Arkansas reporter regarding medical marijuana, Spicer indicated that the Trump administration sees “a big difference” between medical and recreational marijuana, stating that federal law needs to be followed “when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
Spicer also indicated that enforcement decisions will primarily be a Department of Justice (“DOJ”) matter, stating that enforcement is “a question for the Department of Justice,” but that he believed there would be “greater enforcement of [federal law], because again, there’s a big difference between medical use, which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what their intent was on how the Department of Justice would handle that issue,” which, Spicer stated, is “very different from the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”
Although Spicer’s statements should probably not be considered as the Trump administration’s definitive policy statement on recreational marijuana use, they do raise a variety of concerns for cannabis businesses.
This blog post will be in two parts. The first part will provide the reader with an understanding of the laws and concepts associated with the taxation of the marijuana business. The second part will take these ideas and concepts and attempt to provide some practical operational guidance.
The First Part
The income taxation of a marijuana business, whether it be a producer, processor, wholesaler or retail establishment, is very different from a non-marijuana business. Everyone entering into the business will want to talk with a tax expert experienced in the taxation of a marijuana business in order to maximize the return on their investment.
There are several sections of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) that impact the taxation of the marijuana business. Businesses, in general, in which the sale of merchandise is an income producing factor, calculate their taxable income in accordance with three primary sections of the IRC. Those are code sections IRC § 162(a), IRC § 471 and IRC § 263A.
Hal Snow shares his views with Puget Sound Business Journal’s Emily Parkhurst on the surprises, growth of the burgeoning marijuana industry, and issues faced by the industry such as putting together financing structures, non-Washington residents not being allowed to invest in companies, and the struggle in dealing with banking issues. Hal also discusses how GSB’s Cannabis practice group came to fruition with their team of experienced and dedicated attorneys with backgrounds ranging from business law, M&A, land use, real estate and regulatory, and also their experience in helping companies navigate the complexities of highly regulated industries.
Read the article here (subscription required): http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/print-edition/2016/02/12/su
Radio talk show host Ross Reynolds, from KUOW's The Record interviews Hal Snow, member of Garvey Schubert Barer's Cannabis practice group, on the tricky landscape of the marijuana industry. Hal gives his thoughts on topical issues related to current states compliance with federal laws under the Obama administration, banking issues, rise of medicinal and recreational marijuana, and the outlook on marijuana legalization and regulation under a new president and Congress in January 2017.
In the July 9, 2015 Olive¹ decision, the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Tax Court decision that a medical marijuana dispensary was precluded from deducting any amount of ordinary and necessary business expenses associated with the operation of the business because the Vapor Room (the “business”) is a “trade or business…consist[ing] of trafficking in controlled substances…prohibited by Federal law.” I.R.C. § 280E. Deductions were limited to the “costs of goods sold.”
The Vapor Room sold only medical marijuana. It provided many other services but didn’t charge for them. The appellate court distinguished Olive¹ from the 2007 CHAMP² decision where the Tax Court determined that the taxpayer was engaged in two income generating businesses including the sale of medical marijuana and extensive counseling and caregiving services. In CHAMP², the ordinary and necessary business expenses related to the counseling and caregiving services were deductible. See I.R.C. § 162(a).
Participants in the marijuana industry should review the facts of the Olive¹ and CHAMP2 decisions carefully, and consult with their tax attorneys and accountants on the most tax efficient way to structure their marijuana businesses.
If the marijuana business owner also obtains revenue from the sale of non-marijuana goods and services then the ordinary and necessary business expenses related to the non-marijuana activity should be deductible.
Finally, on Aug. 10, 2015, the U.S. Tax Court published the Beck³ decision which, in line with the Olive¹ decision, held that a marijuana business that only sold marijuana products, could not deduct any of the ordinary and necessary business expenses related to the marijuana business. Deductions were limited to “cost of goods sold” I.R.C. § 280E. The Beck3 decision discussed the CHAMP2 decision and upheld its holding that a business may have two or more businesses and that the ordinary and necessary business expenses relating to the non-marijuana businesses were deductible.
¹ Martin Olive v. C.I.R. 139 T.C. 19
²Californians Helping to Alleviate Medical Problems, Inc. – CIR (CHAMP), 128 T.C. 173 (2007)
³Beck-v-C.I.R., T.C. Memo 2015-149 (08/10/2015)
Since its founding in 1966, Garvey Schubert Barer has counseled clients across a broad range of industry sectors. Our attorneys have deep bench experience and significant expertise in both complex legal and business matters. We value innovation and entrepreneurship, and closely monitor industry trends. It is with these values in mind that our firm established the cannabis industry group. Read More ›