Fairness. That’s what marijuana businesses say they’re seeking to win as part of a broad Republican tax reform plan moving through Congress this month.
To date, they haven’t had much luck, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
Under a 1980s federal provision — known as 280E — cannabis businesses are forced to pay a much higher tax rate than companies in other industries.
The statute was originally intended to to stop drug cartel leaders from writing off yachts and expensive cars, but today its plain language means that that growers, processors and sellers of marijuana — which is still a Schedule I substance under federal law — can’t take business expense deductions that are available to operators in other sectors.
Last week, those businesses could not get any member of the House Ways and Means Committee to introduce — never mind muster enough bipartisan support to pass — an amendment attaching a 280E fix to the tax overhaul bill. Amendments on other topics were adopted or rejected on party-line votes.
The legislation was then approved, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats in opposition, and sent to the House Rules Committee to make preparations for a floor vote.
On Tuesday, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) did file a 280E amendment in the Rules panel, intended for floor consideration. He described the proposal as “essentially revenue neutral” in comments before the committee, of which he is a member.
Referring to the up to 70 percent effective tax rate that legal cannabis businesses are forced to pay because they cannot take expense deductions, Polis said 280E makes their prices artificially high and “prevents them from being able to completely undermine the criminal cartels” because those organizations can sometimes undercut legal prices.
Repealing the outdated provision would be the “nail in the coffin of the criminal cartels that jeopardize the health of our kids and our safety,” he said.
But the panel, as expected, did not allow the measure to advance before the full House, as has been the case with every marijuana amendment over the course of the past year.
What’s more, the panel advanced the tax bill under a “closed rule” that blocked all 139 submitted amendments on a broad range of topics from reaching the floor.
(One of those additional measures, by Congressman Lou Correa (D-CA) would establish a 15 percent federal excise tax on legal marijuana sales with revenue earmarked toward reducing the deficit.)
Polis’s motion to amend the rule to specifically allow the 280E measure to be considered on the floor failed on a party-line vote of three to eight.
The tax bill will now go before the full House later this week where it is expected to be narrowly approved.
In the meantime, advocates are hanging their hopes on the Senate, where the Finance Committee is marking up its version of the tax reform legislation this week.
Get access to this exclusive analysis for Marijuana Moment Patreon supporters that spells out which senators cannabis interests need to win over in order to approve a 280E amendment in committee. A sufficient number of GOP members of the Senate Finance Committee have supported marijuana measures in the past to put 280E reform within reach.
A total of 355 amendments have been filed before that panel.
While none are listed as explicitly dealing with 280E, the legislative text for the measures hasn’t been posted online, and one amendment in particular from Sen. Ron Wyden (R-OR) is described in a fashion that seems as though it may concern the marijuana tax provision: “Amendment of a perfecting nature to help small business.”
Wyden is the sponsor of a standalone 280E reform bill similarly titled, “The Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017.”
Advocates have had success garnering increasing bipartisan support for that bill and standalone 280E reform legislation in the House this year as compared to versions filed in the past Congress. But those bills are not going to move though committee, to the floor and to the president.
The only real hope of getting a reform enacted into law is to attach it to a broader moving vehicle like the GOP tax bill.
And now, because of the failure to approve a 280E amendment on the House side, the only hope lies in the Senate. That means either getting an amendment adopted in committee or on the floor.
The latter will be a much harder path because the bill will likely be considered by the full body under an agreement that limits the number of amendments, and Senate Democratic leaders are likely to focus their efforts on measures concerning middle-class tax relief and general tax rates for businesses.
While convincing Senate Republicans to amend their leadership’s important bill in committee is a big ask, it is seen as not nearly as heavy a lift as convincing House GOP members to vote to change the bill in their chamber would have been.
So now, industry interests are hoping that Wyden’s amendment is about 280E, that he can hold all the Democrats on the panel in support of it and that a select number of targeted Republicans will go along with the plan.
Find out which senators cannabis businesses need to target to win a 280E reform amendment in the Senate Finance Committee in this exclusive analysis for Marijuana Moment Patreon supporters:
Even if 280E language is adopted on the Senate side, it will still have to a survive a bicameral conference committee that merges the bill with the House version which does not contain the provision.
Wyden’s office and cannabis business advocacy interests active on Capitol Hill did not respond to queries from Marijuana Moment for this story.
Banking Lobby Surveys Members On Problems Serving Marijuana Businesses
The largest group representing U.S. banks is asking its members to share stories demonstrating problems caused by the growing gap between marijuana’s ongoing federally prohibited status and its legalization in an increasing number of states.
In an email announcing the cannabis survey last week, the American Bankers Association (ABA) said that responses will be used by the national organization and its affiliated state bankers associations “to help illustrate to regulators and legislators the need for greater clarity” on the issue.
“[B]anks face significant risks in serving this industry, including criminal and civil penalties as well as bank regulatory action,” the email said, adding that the group wants to “learn more from bankers about how the lack of legal clarity regarding cannabis and banking is impacting banks and their communities.”
While the Treasury Department under the Obama administration released guidance to banks on serving marijuana businesses in 2014—and a steadily growing number of institutions are opening accounts for cannabis growers, processors, retailers and related operations—many financial services providers have remained wary about working with the industry in light of continuing federal criminalization.
“Can you provide an example of a situation where you had to close an existing account, terminate a banking relationship or turn away a potential customer due to their association with marijuana?” the new ABA survey asks. “This could include relationships with mainstream businesses that are not directly related to marijuana, but may generate a portion of their income from marijuana-related businesses (e.g., landlords, security companies, etc.).”
Concerns about federal prohibition have caused a number of banks close accounts for ancillary service providers such as law firms that work with marijuana businesses but don’t actually touch the plant themselves.
ABA, a trade association founded in 1875, is also querying members on whether they have ever seen a customer try to “disguise their affiliation with a marijuana business” and if state or local officials have ever initiated contact “urging you to bank marijuana businesses.”
And the organization wants to know about communications from federal regulators as well, particularly whether their feedback “on how to manage marijuana related accounts” has been “consistent.”
While ABA hasn’t endorsed cannabis reform—the group “takes no position on the moral issues raised by legalizing marijuana,” its website says—it has increasingly focused attention on highlighting financial services issues caused by federal prohibition.
For example, last month the group’s vice president and associate chief counsel for regulatory compliance published a lengthy report outlining what he called the “cannabis conundrum” that bankers in an increasing number of states now face.
And over the summer, the ABA Banking Journal’s podcast featured an interview on the topic with the head of the Colorado Bankers Association.
The banking trade group also asked in the survey whether respondents would offer services to marijuana businesses if the “state/federal conflict is resolved,” and if they are willing to allow their responses to be attributed to them, suggesting that the organization may be preparing public advocacy materials featuring the stories of members that could be used as part of an increased push to amend federal policy.
Legalization advocates say that ABA’s effort to build support for cannabis reform on Capitol Hill will be welcome.
“As more and more states implement regulated markets for the medical or personal use of cannabis, no industry can operate safely, transparently, or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in an interview. “If the ABA is able to hasten congressional change in federal policy so that these growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities, then it is yet another sign that the end of prohibition is near.”
A number of key Trump administration officials have indicated they want to see a clarity on cannabis banking issues.
For example, Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, has hinted in congressional testimony that he wants state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to store their profits in banks.
“I assure you that we don’t want bags of cash,” he said during an appearance before a House committee in February. “We do want to find a solution to make sure that businesses that have large access to cash have a way to get them into a depository institution for it to be safe.”
In a separate hearing he said that resolving the marijuana banking issue is at the “top of the list” of his concerns.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in June that the disparity between local and national marijuana laws “puts federally chartered banks in a very difficult situation.”
“It would great if that could be clarified,” he said.
And that same month, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams said that while she directed her staff to consider ways to address the issue, the agency’s hands are “somewhat tied” until federal law changes.
Pressure is also coming from the states. In August, a coalition of the top financial regulators in 13 states sent a letter demanding Congress take action to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses.
Despite the growing call for clarity on the issue, key committees in the House and Senate rejected amendments this summer that would have prevented federal banking regulators from punishing financial institutions for serving the marijuana industry.
Standalone legislation to provide permanent protections to banks that work with cannabis businesses have garnered increasing numbers of cosponsors in both chambers, but haven’t been scheduled for hearings or votes.
Canada’s Liquor Stores Will Heavily Outnumber Marijuana Stores On Legalization’s Launch
In case you missed it, Canada’s legal marijuana system goes into effect next week. But new data reveals that access to liquor stores is going to be far greater than planned cannabis store—at least for the time being.
Statistics Canada, a government agency, released the report, which compares the prevalence of liquor stores and planned cannabis stores in each Canadian province, on Wednesday. The team behind the report notes that information about pending private or government-run marijuana shops is incomplete—excepting online retailers, for example.
“Using the agency’s geographic databases, the location of each Canadian household is identified, and the distance from that location to the nearest legal retail outlet is calculated. Averages of these distances are then calculated to determine how generally accessible these products are to Canadians.”
The top-level takeaway is pretty straightforward. Ninety percent of Canadians currently live within 10km (or about six miles) of a liquor store. Only 35 percent of the Canadian population lives within the same distance of a planned cannabis store. Visualized, here’s a look at the access to cannabis and liquor stores based on population density in each province:
Access to liquor stores by province
Population of Canadians with access to a liquor store based on distance.
|1 km||2 km||5 km||10 km||More than 10 km|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||84,776||158,242||265,484||321,357|
|Prince Edward Island||20,498||38,328||77,954||107,592|
Access to planned cannabis stores by province
Population of Canadians with access to a planned cannabis store based on distance.
|1 km||2 km||5 km||10 km||More than 10 km|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||51,424||141,076||274,922||336,714|
|Prince Edward Island||6,907||29,616||59,576||82,626|
“Canadians have remarkably good access to liquor stores all across the country with 90 percent living within 10 kilometers of a store,” the report states. “Not surprisingly, their access to cannabis stores immediately after legalization on October 17, 2018 is likely to be much more restricted with only 35 percent of the population dwelling within 10 kilometers of a store.”
“It is emphasized this is a preliminary estimate based on less-than-full information about the number of stores expected to open and their locations. Cannabis accessibility will undoubtedly increase substantially in 2019 and 2020.”
For a comprehensive breakdown on the differences in marijuana legalization implementation for each province, check out this Marijuana Moment analysis.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Marijuana Stores Will Be Hard To Find For Most Canadians On Day One Of Legalization
One week from today, Canadian adults will be able to purchase marijuana legally across the country. But the number of stores per province and per capita at this point varies widely, an analysis Marijuana Moment conducted shows.
For residents of Canada’s most and least populous provinces, Ontario and Nunavut, respectively, online ordering will be their only means of legal purchase for the foreseeable future. British Columbia, the third-biggest province in the country with 4.8 million residents, has licensed only one store. Meanwhile, Northwest Territories, with only 44,520 residents, will open six government-run stores, or one per 7,420 residents.
(Note: British Columbia omitted for scale, as it has only one store for 4.8 million residents. Ontario and Nunavut will be online sales only on October 17. Population 2017 per Statistics Canada)
While many of even these preliminary licensed locations will not be operational October 17, by federal law, each province must provide an online purchasing system.
And the provinces have committed to opening more physical stores. Manitoba has set a goal that 90 percent of Manitobans have a 30-minute drive or less to a cannabis store. Ontario was supposed to have 40 stores run through the province by now, but when the new provincial government came into power in June, they decided that cannabis stores will be privately owned, so legislators had to go back to the drawing board on regulations.
Alberta hasn’t set a limit for the overall number of private stores in the province, but each locality will be allowed to set a limit for their area. Hundreds of companies have applied to be retailers.
Each province has set up its own rules and regulations regarding minimum age for sales, possession limits and whether residents can grow plants at home.
As with alcohol, the age at which Canadians can purchase cannabis is lower than in the United States. In Quebec and Alberta, 18 year-olds will be able to purchase adult-use marijuana. In every other province, the legal age will be 19. By contrast, in the U.S., every state that has legalized recreational marijuana to date has set the legal age at 21, which is also the legal drinking age in the states.
In most provinces, four plants can be grown in a household. Quebec and Manitoba are prohibiting home growing; Nunavut is not prohibiting personal growing, but has not defined a limit. New Brunswick has specified conditions to allow plants to be grown outdoors (a locked enclosure 1.52 meters high). British Columbia has specified that home plants must not be visible to the public, and won’t be allowed in day-care homes.
The national standard for purchase and public possession for adults is 30 grams of product of any kind. Quebec has set a limit on household possession at 150 grams, but other provinces have not set limits on how much cannabis can be kept in a private home.
What will make up those 30 grams? Flower, oils and, in provinces that are allowing home growing, seeds and plants. The federal legislation prohibits edibles and concentrates at this time.
Public use of cannabis is the policy that varies the most widely from province to province. Most provinces have adopted the stance that smoking or vaping marijuana will be illegal anywhere smoking or vaping tobacco is not allowed. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Yukon have banned public use (the regulations of the latter two specify backyard use as well as homes). Alberta and Nunavut have left it up to local governments to set regulations. Ontario and Quebec have set specific locations where it will be illegal to consume, including parks, public spaces and bus shelters.
Every province has passed legislation of some form banning cannabis for drivers in vehicles, but legal limits will differ from province to province. Quebec has adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for all drivers, while Ontario is setting zero tolerance for drivers under 21 years of age as well as commercial drivers. Other provinces are developing systems for how driving while impaired will be determined.
With retail stores spare in Ontario and British Columbia, perhaps Regina, Saskatchewan will become the tourist destination of choice for Americans thinking about crossing the border to experience legalization in their northern backyard. Those tourists should be sure to empty their pockets and car before returning to the United States, as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has promised to crack down on Canadians and U.S. citizens alike.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Policarpio.