California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a handful of marijuana bills into law on Tuesday, making a series of small adjustments to the nation’s largest legal cannabis system. More sweeping proposals such as overhauling the state’s marijuana regulatory structure will have to wait until next year, the governor said.
Among the biggest of the new changes are revisions to banking and advertising laws. With many legal marijuana businesses are still unable to access financial services, Newsom signed a bill (AB 1525) to remove state penalties against banks that work with cannabis clients.
“This bill has the potential to increase the provisions of financial services to the legal cannabis industry,” Newsom wrote in a signing statement, “and for that reason, I support it.”
Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, have been working for months to remove obstacles to these businesses’ access to financial services at the federal level. A coronavirus relief bill released by House Democratic leaders on Monday is the latest piece of legislation to include marijuana banking protections. Past efforts to include such provisions have been scuttled by Senate Republicans.
In his signing statement on the banking bill, Newsom directed state cannabis regulators to establish rules meant to protect the privacy of marijuana businesses that seek financial services, urging that data be kept confidential and is used only “for the provision of financial services to support licensees.”
Another bill (SB 67) the governor signed on Tuesday will finally establish a cannabis appellation program, meant to indicate where marijuana is grown and how that might influence its character. The system is similar to how wine regions are regulated.
Under the new law, growers and processors under the new law will be forbidden from using the name of a city or other designated region in product marketing unless all of that product’s cannabis is grown in that region. Similar protections already apply at the county level.
For outdoor growers, the new law recognizes the importance of terrior—the unique combination of soil, sun and other environmental factors that can influence the character of a cannabis plant. For indoor growers, it provides a way to represent a hometown or cash in on regional cachet.
Most of the other new changes that the governor signed into law are relatively minor and will likely go unnoticed by consumers. One, for example, builds in more wiggle room on the amount of THC in edibles (AB 1458), while another would allow state-licensed cannabis testing labs to provide services to law enforcement (SB 1244).
The bills were approved by state lawmakers earlier this month, as the state’s legislative session drew to a close.
Other pieces of cannabis legislation passed by the legislature this session were met with the governor’s veto. On Tuesday, Newsom rejected a proposal (AB 1470) that would have allowed processors to submit unpackaged products to testing labs, which industry lobbyists said would reduce costs. Currently products must be submitted in their final form, complete with retail packaging. Newsom said the proposal “conflicts with current regulations…that prevent contaminated and unsafe products from entering the retail market.”
“While I support reducing packaging waste, allowing products to be tested not in their final form could result in consumer harm and have a disproportionate impact on small operators,” Newsom said in a veto statement.
Those changes to testing procedures should instead be considered next year, Newsom said, as part of a pending plan to streamline California’s cannabis licensing and regulatory agencies.
“I have directed my administration to consolidate the state regulatory agencies that currently enforce cannabis health and safety standards to pursue all appropriate measures to ease costs and reduce unnecessary packaging,” he wrote. “This proposal should be considered as part of that process.”
Newsom also last week vetoed a bill (AB 545) that would have begun to dissolve the state Bureau of Cannabis Control, which oversees the legal industry. In a statement, the governor called that legislation “premature” given his plans for broader reform.
“My Administration has proposed consolidating the regulatory authority currently divided between three state entities into one single department,” Newsom wrote, “which we hope to achieve next year in partnership with the Legislature.”
Earlier this month, the governor signed into law one of the industry’s top priorities for the year—a measure (AB 1872) that freezes state cannabis cultivation and excise taxes for the entirety of 2021. The law is intended to provide financial stability for cannabis businesses in California, where taxes on marijuana are among the highest in the nation.
The state’s leading marijuana trade group, the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), applauded the governor’s moves. All the bills approved by Newsom this week had the industry group’s support.
“We thank Governor Newsom for prioritizing these bills, which seek to reduce regulatory burdens, improve enforcement, expand financial services and enhance the state’s cannabis appellation’s program,” CCIA Executive Director Lindsay Robinson said in a message to supporters on Wednesday. “Like so many, the cannabis industry has faced a series of unexpected challenges and setbacks in 2020. We look forward to continuing to work with the Newsom Administration, and the Legislature, as we pursue a robust policy agenda in 2021.”
Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore
Congressional Researchers Analyze 280E Marijuana Tax Penalty And Legislative Solutions
In a new report published this month, Congressional researchers examine tax policies and restrictions for the marijuana industry—and how those could change if any number of federal reform bills are enacted.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysis focuses on a section of Internal Revenue Services (IRS) code known as 280E, which precludes cannabis companies from taking certain federal tax deductions or credits that are available to other businesses, regardless of their state legality. But they are still obligated to pay taxes on their federally illegal income.
“The Schedule I status of marijuana means that marijuana businesses are treated differently from many other businesses for tax purposes,” CRS said. However, “Congress has broad authority to alter the tax treatment of marijuana businesses.”
“The legislative history of Section 280E indicates that Congress enacted the provision to codify a sharply defined public policy against drug dealing,” the report states.
The provision was enacted in 1982 as a way to prevent drug traffickers from writing expenses off their taxes, but it is widely applied today on state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries, greatly increasing their effective tax rates as compared to businesses in other industries.
280E applies to substances in Schedules I and II of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
“Recent legislative proposals aim to relax federal restrictions on marijuana or to mitigate the disparity between federal and state marijuana regulation,” the new CRS report states. “Many of these proposals would alter the tax treatment of marijuana businesses by re-scheduling or descheduling marijuana under the CSA or by making marijuana-specific exceptions.”
“Under these proposals, Section 280E would no longer prohibit marijuana businesses from taking deductions and credits,” it says.
While several bills were introduced last session to federally legalize cannabis—including the House-passed Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—they have not been refiled so far this year.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of developing legislation to end cannabis criminalization and promote social equity, and they’ve met with advocates about how best to draft that proposal.
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) recently said he will soon be reintroducing the MORE Act.
A number of standalone bills to remove the 280E penalty’s application on marijuana businesses have also been filed over the years in Congress, but none has ever been given a hearing or a vote.
But for the time being, the marijuana industry continues to face tax policy challenges under the umbrella of prohibition. And CRS noted that IRS “has offered little tax guidance about the application of Section 280E.”
It did provide some guidance in an update last year, explaining that while cannabis businesses can’t take standard deductions, 280E does not “prohibit a participant in the marijuana industry from reducing its gross receipts by its properly calculated cost of goods sold to determine its gross income.”
The IRS update seemed to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released last year. The 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.”
One note that IRS especially wants to make clear to cannabis firms is that they still have to pay income tax. And CRS articulated that in its report as well.
“Like non-marijuana businesses, marijuana businesses are subject to tax on all of their income,” it said. “Under federal law, all income is taxable, including income from unlawful activities. In contrast, not all expenses are deductible from a taxpayer’s gross income.”
But paying those taxes has proved onerous—both for cannabis businesses and the IRS itself. The head of the agency told Congress last month that it would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana firms to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system is complex and inefficient.
Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that he’d like to see Congress approve legislation resolving the cannabis banking issue and he pointed to the fact that IRS has had to build “cash rooms” to deposit taxes from those businesses as an example of the problem.
CRS also discussed legislation that’s “attempted to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banking and financial service” like the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act, which passed the House in 2019 and also as part of two COVID-19 relief packages. “Many financial institutions are unwilling to provide state-sanctioned marijuana businesses with common banking products and financial services due to federal laws that impose civil and criminal liability on financial institutions handling money tied to marijuana.”
While there may be that reluctance, federal data released earlier this month shows that the number of banks and credit unions that report servicing marijuana businesses seems to be stabilizing.
For three quarters in a row, those numbers were consistently declining—due partly to revised reporting requirements from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and also because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the latest report signals that the trend is lifting.
Lawmakers in the Senate and House filed new bills to address the marijuana banking issue in recent days.
Colorado Sold More Than $187 Million In Legal Marijuana In January
The state has now surpassed $10 billion in total sales since legal cannabis commerce began in 2014.
By Robert Davis | The Center Square
Marijuana sales in Colorado reached $187,603,697 in January, the state’s revenue department said this week.
The state has now surpassed $10 billion in total marijuana sales since legalizing the drug in 2014. In return, the state has collected over $1.6 billion in marijuana taxes and fee revenues since then.
January’s sales were slightly more than the $186 million in sales in December 2020.
Marijuana taxes and fees are assessed against both recreational and medical marijuana. The tax and fee revenue is distributed to local governments and educational institutions.
Three-quarters of marijuana tax and fee revenue is appropriated to the state’s marijuana tax cash fund, which provides funding to the governor’s office, education department, and the attorney general’s office, among others.
Another 15.56 percent is apportioned to the state’s general fund, with the remaining 12 percent going to the state public school fund, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Council Staff.
Tax revenue is collected through a 2.9 percent state sales tax on marijuana sold in stores, a 15 percent tax on retail marijuana sold in stores and a 15 percent retail marijuana excise tax on wholesale sales or transfers of retail marijuana. Fee revenue comes from marijuana license and application fees.
In February, Colorado collected $34,747,575 in marijuana tax and fee revenue. The Colorado Department of Revenue will release the total sales for that month in April.
Colorado has collected a total of $69,728,521 in marijuana tax and fee revenue so far this year.
Legal Marijuana States See Reduced Workers’ Compensation Claims, New Study Finds
Legalizing marijuana for adult use is associated with an increase in workforce productivity and decrease in workplace injuries, according to a new study partly funded by the federal government.
In a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers looked at the impact of recreational cannabis legalization on workers’ compensation claims among older adults. They found declines in such filings “both in terms of the propensity to receive benefits and benefit amount” in states that have enacted the policy change.
Further, they identified “complementary declines in non-traumatic workplace injury rates and the incidence of work-limiting disabilities” in legal states.
These findings run counter to arguments commonly made by prohibitionists, who have claimed that legalizing marijuana would lead to lower productivity and more occupational hazards and associated costs to businesses. In fact, the study indicates that regulating cannabis sales for adults is a workplace benefit by enabling older employees (40-62 years old) to access an alternative treatment option.
“We offer evidence that the primary driver of these reductions [in workers’ compensation] is an improvement in work capacity, likely due to access to an additional form of pain management therapy,” the study, which received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states.
The implementation of adult-use legalization seems to “improve access to an additional channel for managing pain and other health conditions, suggesting potential benefits on populations at risk of workplace injuries,” it continues.
The study is based on an analysis of data on workers’ compensation benefit receipt and workers’ compensation income from
2010 to 2018 as reported in the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.
“Our results show a decline in workers’ compensation benefit propensity of 0.18 percentage points, which corresponds to a 20 percent reduction in any workers’ compensation income, after states legalize marijuana for recreational use. Similarly, we find that annual income received from workers’ compensation declines by $21.98 (or 20.5%) post-[recreational marijuana legalization]. These results are not driven by pre-existing trends, and falsification exercises suggest that observing estimates of this magnitude is statistically rare.”
Researchers said that they’ve found evidence that cannabis use increases post-legalization among the age cohort they studied, but no such spike in misuse. Further, they found a decline in post-legalization prescriptions for medications used to treat chronic pain, indicating that some people are using marijuana as a substitute for traditional painkillers.
“We hypothesize that access to marijuana through [recreational marijuana laws] increases its medical use and, in turn, allows better management of symptoms that impede work capacity—e.g., chronic pain, insomnia, mental health problems, nausea, and so forth,” the study says. “Chronic pain management is likely to be particularly important in our context as this is the health condition most commonly reported among medical marijuana users.”
Beyond decreasing workers’ compensation claims and costs, legalization also is a boon to the economy by adding jobs in legal states.
The cannabis industry added more than 77,000 jobs over the past year—a 32 percent increase that makes the sector the fastest in job creation compared to any other American industry, according to a report released by the cannabis company Leafly last week.