The California legislature on Wednesday approved a wide-ranging bill to restructure the state’s adult-use marijuana program, including by eliminating a cannabis cultivation tax, in an effort to provide industry relief and further curtail the illicit market.
AB 195, which builds upon an amended budget proposal that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) unveiled last month, passed both chambers with nearly unanimous support. While stakeholders say there’s still more to be done, many feel the bill represents a significant, positive development in the evolving industry.
The key provisions that lawmakers secured would eliminate the marijuana cultivation tax and shift the point of collection and remittance for the separate 15 percent excise tax on cannabis sales from the distribution to retail level. Additionally, there will be no increase in the excise tax for at least three years under the proposal, which is expected to be signed by the governor and then take effect immediately.
“We are extremely pleased at the hard-fought progress that we were able to make with this bill,” Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday.
“It is certainly not perfect—and we acknowledge that, and we acknowledge that there is more work to do,” she said. “But eliminating the cultivation tax has been a huge priority for CCIA for the past four years, so we’re certainly proud of that victory.”
California’s top cannabis regulator, Nicole Elliott, praised the development in a tweet.
“Big shout-out to the businesses, labor groups, equity advocates, local governments, staffers and all the other stakeholders who believe in doing the hard work necessary to make big reform possible,” she wrote. “Today’s progress was made possible by you.”
Big shout-out to the businesses, labor groups, equity advocates, local governments, staffers and all the other stakeholders who believe in doing the hard work necessary to make big reform possible.
Today’s progress was made possible by you.
— Nicole Elliott (@NicoleElliottCA) June 30, 2022
Advocates are also pleased that the three years of excise tax relief that would be provided under the bill is a significant expansion from the 18-month window that the governor proposed in his updated budget.
The legislation would also take steps to bolster enforcement against unlicensed operators. For example, property managers that knowingly rent or lease space to a business that unlawfully manufacturers, stores or sells cannabis would be subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 for every violation per day. County governments could also take civil actions against unlicensed cultivators over water pollution or diversion.
Social equity marijuana businesses would be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit under the bill, and they will be able to keep 20 percent of the excise tax revenue from their cannabis sales for the purpose of reinvesting in their business.
Huge victory for UFCW's cannabis workers! @CAgovernor @GavinNewsom and #CAleg have put $40 million in tax credits for CA’s licensed high-road cannabis employers! This will help the industry stay in business and provide good jobs for workers! @UFCWWSC8 pic.twitter.com/KIXHNLUnf3
— UFCW LOCAL 5 (@UFCW5) June 29, 2022
Another provision that the industry is encouraged by is the inclusion of $40 million in tax credits, half of which would be reserved for eligible retailers and microbusinesses. The other half would go toward equity operators.
Not everyone is satisfied with that level of support, however. Sen. Steven Bradford (D), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, called it “minimal and insulting.”
Much discontent as Senate passes AB195, which rejiggers cannabis taxes (e.g. eliminating cultivation tax) to boost legal market.
Several senators complain it does not have enough relief for retailers. @SteveBradford calls tax credits for equity operators "minimal and insulting."
— Alexei Koseff (@akoseff) June 30, 2022
In a win for labor interests, the bill reduces the number of non-management employees that a business can have before being required to enter into a labor peace agreement from 20 to 10.
“We’re going to continue to fight for this,” CCIA’s Robinson said. “We think now is a great opportunity for all legal cannabis operators in California to try and work together and over overcome some of the divisiveness of the past, and I think we’re making real strides towards that.”
The legislation also appropriates about $670 million in marijuana tax dollars for education, youth substance misuse treatment, school retention, environmental clean-up and remediation related to illicit cannabis manufacturing, as well as law enforcement.
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Also, the bill includes Newsom’s requested $20 million one-time grant program to support the development and implementation of local retail licensing efforts. That’s an important component that’s meant to help reduce the cannabis policy gap throughout California, where more than half of the state’s cities and counties do not allow any type of cannabis licensees to operate in their area
Relatedly, state officials launched a new resource last month, providing people with an interactive map showing where marijuana businesses are permitted—and where they are blocked from opening—throughout the state.
Meanwhile, California officials are distributing another round of community reinvestment grants totaling $35.5 million with tax revenue generated from recreational marijuana sales.
The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) announced early this month that they’ve awarded 78 grants to organizations throughout the state that will support economic and social development in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The amount of funding and number of recipients increased from last year’s levels, when the state awarded about $29 million in grants to 58 nonprofit organizations through the CalCRG program.
California has taken in nearly $4 billion in marijuana tax revenue since the state’s adult-use market launched in 2018, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) reported late last month. And for the first quarter of 2022, the state saw about $294 million in cannabis revenue generated from the excise, cultivation and sales tax on marijuana.
The state collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the last fiscal year. That represented 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the 2020-2021 period.
California officials also announced in January that the state had awarded $100 million in funding to help develop local marijuana markets, in part by getting cannabis businesses fully licensed.
DCC distributed the funds to 17 cities and counties where there are a disproportionate number of provisional marijuana licenses, rather than full-year licenses. The department first announced that applications for the Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant Program had opened in October.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.