U.S. senators are expected to consider two far-reaching marijuana amendments to a broad Republican-led tax bill being debated on the floor this week. Both measures are sponsored by GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, and they concern the ability state-legal cannabis businesses to take tax deductions that are available to operators in other industries.
Under current federal law, a 1980s provision — known as 280E — effectively forces cannabis businesses to pay a much higher tax rate than other companies.
The statute was originally intended to to stop drug cartel leaders from writing off yachts and expensive cars, but today its 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.
As a result, cannabis businesses often pay an effective tax rate upwards of 65-75 percent, compared with a normal rate of around 15-30 percent.
The full text of both of Gardner’s measures are included below.
See Marijuana Moment’s earlier report on Gardner’s cannabis tax advocacy for background and context.
Gardner’s first amendment provides a simple exemption to the provision known as 280E for marijuana businesses that are operating in accordance with state laws:
______ SA 1609. Mr. GARDNER submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill H.R. 1, to provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows: At the end of part IV of subtitle C of title I, add the following: SEC. 13311. ALLOWANCE OF DEDUCTIONS AND CREDITS RELATING TO EXPENDITURES IN CONNECTION WITH MARIJUANA SALES CONDUCTED IN COMPLIANCE WITH STATE LAW. (a) In General.--Section 280E is amended by inserting before the period at the end the following: ``, unless such trade or business consists of marijuana sales conducted in compliance with State law''. (b) Effective Date.--The amendment made by this section shall apply with respect to taxable years ending after the date of the enactment of this Act. ______
Gardner’s second amendment is more complicated. It also provides the 280E fix for state-legal cannabis businesses, but requires that they meet a certain definition of “properly regulated” in order to qualify for the exemption:
______ SA 1639. Mr. GARDNER submitted an amendment intended to be proposed to amendment SA 1618 proposed by Mr. McConnell (for Mr. Hatch (for himself and Ms. Murkowski)) to the bill H.R. 1, to provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows: At the appropriate place, insert the following: SEC. __. EXCEPTION FOR EXPENDITURES IN CONNECTION WITH CERTAIN CANNABIS RELATED TRADES OR BUSINESSES. (a) In General.--Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended-- (1) by striking ``drugs'' and all that follows through ``No deduction'' and inserting ``drugs ``(a) General Rule.--Except as provided in subsection (b), no deduction''; and (2) by adding at the end the following: ``(b) Exception for Certain Cannabis Related Trades or Businesses.-- ``(1) Exclusion from trafficking.--Those activities undertaken in connection with a qualified cannabis trade or business shall not be considered trafficking in controlled substances for purposes of subsection (a). ``(2) Definitions.--For purposes of this subsection: ``(A) Cannabis related trade or business.--The term `cannabis related trade or business' means a trade or business that earns cannabis related income. ``(B) Cannabis related income.--The term `cannabis related income' means any income earned from the manufacture, production, cultivation, processing, refinement, transportation and delivery, distribution, testing, use, sale, or exchange of cannabis or cannabis-derived materials. ``(C) Qualified cannabis related trade or business.--The term `qualified cannabis related trade or business' means a cannabis related trade or business that meets the following requirements: ``(i) The activities giving rise to the cannabis related income of the trade or business are properly regulated under the laws of the State in which they are conducted. ``(ii) No cannabis or cannabis-derived materials owned by the trade or business are sold, exchanged, provided free of charge, gifted, donated, sampled, embedded in the sale of another item, embedded within the provision of a service, or otherwise transferred in a manner that does not give rise to cannabis related income. ``(iii) None of the activities of the trade or business are trafficking in controlled substances other than cannabis or cannabis-derived materials regulated under State law. ``(iv) To the extent that the cannabis related trade or business was in existence prior to the date of enactment of this subsection, the person who held or controlled a license described in paragraph (3)(A) in taxable years ending before such date of enactment has not had a cannabis license revoked by State licensing authorities. ``(3) Properly regulated.--The term `properly regulated' means, with respect to a qualified cannabis related trade or business, the following: ``(A) Persons engaged in the activities giving rise to the cannabis related gross receipts are licensed by the State in which they conduct such activities and such license is subject to periodic renewal. ``(B) State licensing rules impose limitations on the production and distribution of cannabis and items derived from cannabis. ``(C) State licensing rules restrict the distribution of cannabis and items derived from cannabis to minors, including-- ``(i) a minimum age on legal purchases of 18; and ``(ii) restrictions on advertising, marketing ,and promotional activities that are at least as stringent as those imposed on alcohol products in the State. ``(D) Sufficient books and records are employed by the cannabis related trade or business-- ``(i) to enable the seed to sale identification of all the cannabis or cannabis derived materials owned or used in connection with the manufacturing, production, growth, processing, refinement, distribution, testing, use, sale, or exchange activities of the cannabis related trade or business; and ``(ii) to enable the association of the income of the cannabis trade or business with the cannabis or cannabis derived materials identified in accordance with clause (i). ``(E) Personal use exemptions to the State licensing requirements, if any, contain limitations similar to those contained in section 5053(e), applied-- ``(i) by limiting the definition of any permissible transfer to another person, whether by sale, exchange, gift, sharing, concurrent use, or otherwise, to transfers between the persons who constitute family members within the meaning of section 267(c)(4) and who are not minors; and ``(ii) by substituting 8 plants for 200 gallons in each place it appears for applying a household limitation involving more than 1 adult and 4 plants for 100 gallons in each place it appears for applying a household limitation involving only 1 adult. ``(F) State licensing rules limit caregiver, agency, designation arrangements, cooperative agreements, or any other arrangement involving cannabis or cannabis derived materials purporting not to involve a trade or business to 8 plants per patient or person per calendar year. ``(4) Application to persons engaged in more than one trade or business.--The activities of all persons who are related parties within the meaning of section 52 shall be taken into account in applying this subsection.''. (b) Effective Date.--The amendments made by this section shall apply with respect to taxable years ending after the date of the enactment of this Act. ______
One or both of the Gardner amendments are expected to be considered as part of a so-called “vote-a-rama” on the Senate floor late Thursday or on Friday.
Andrew Yang Peddles Marijuana-Themed Presidential Campaign Merchandise
2020 candidate Andrew Yang announced on Saturday that his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is rolling out a line of marijuana-themed merch.
The limited edition products blend Yang’s love of mathematics with his support for cannabis reform. A t-shirt being offered for $30 simply says, “Math. Money. Marijuana.” And a now-sold-out baseball cap says “Math” on the front and displays a cannabis leaf on back. There’s also a bumper sticker that says, “Legalize Marijuana.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Buttigieg Pledges To Decriminalize Possession Of All Drugs In First Term As President
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a comprehensive plan on Friday that calls for “decriminalizing all drug possession” in his first presidential term as a means to combat the opioid epidemic and treat addiction as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.
Decriminalization is just one action the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said he’d pursue in order to reform the country’s mental health care system and bolster substance abuse treatment. His plan also includes proposals to reduce sentences for drug offenses other than possession, increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and make it easier to implement syringe exchange programs.
America’s addiction and mental health care crisis has been building for decades—due to decades of neglect by political leaders in Washington. Today, I’m proposing a new approach that tackles this crisis with the urgency and care it deserves. pic.twitter.com/U8F9DXJPC2
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
Buttigieg’s “Healing and Belonging in America” plan emphasizes the need to divert people suffering from addiction away from prisons and into treatment. He said he’d accomplish that by expanding diversionary programs and evidence-based training “for drug courts, mental health courts, and other alternatives to incarceration for justice-involved persons.”
The goal of decriminalization and diversion is to reduce “the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75 percent in the first term.”
Our country is in the midst of a mental health and addiction crisis, worsened by decades of stigma and political neglect. I’ll bring a new approach, rooted in commitment and community, to tackle this crisis with the urgency it deserves. https://t.co/spBoh5KH4X
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
Under his plan, sentencing reform for drug offenses other than possession would be applied retroactively and coupled with expungements for past convictions. Buttigieg pointed to research demonstrating that “incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths” and instead “actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem.”
“To ensure that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder can heal, we will decriminalize these conditions,” the proposal states. “When someone is undergoing a crisis or is caught using a drug, they should be treated by a health professional rather than punished in a jail cell.”
“All presidential candidates should join Pete Buttigieg in recognizing that the criminalization of people for their drug use is wrong and simply bad policy,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Action, said in a press release. “Possession of drugs for personal use is the single most arrested offense in the United States, eclipsing arrest rates for any other offense. With overdose numbers skyrocketing and entire communities, disproportionately black or brown, suffering from criminalization, it’s time for policymakers to shift gears. Taking an evidence-based, health-centered approach to address this crisis is not only true leadership – it’s common sense.”
The mayor also made harm reduction policies a key component of his strategy. He said take-home naloxone programs would be expanded to all 50 states by 2024 and that harm reduction services would be expanded “to reduce overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases related to needle sharing.”
The plan would make naloxone “broadly available in order to reverse overdoses” and remove “legislative and regulatory restrictions on the use of federal funds for syringe service programs.”
Buttigieg said the federal government should provide funding for state and local health departments to purchase the medication, make sure that it’s “available in public spaces and workplaces” similar to first aid kids and encourage “co-prescribing of naloxone with opioids, either by individual physicians or direct dispensing by pharmacists.”
Existing federal law makes it difficult to establish syringe exchange programs, in part because federal funds can’t be used to buy needles. The restrictions “hamper state and local responses, both because they limit resources and because they convey a negative message about the value of these programs, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they can prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis.”
In addition to lifting those barriers, the candidate said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “would also work with states to remove any criminal liability for those participating in” syringe exchange programs.
“Harm reduction programs are a critical part of any effective response to the opioid and injection drug use crisis. They minimize the negative impact of drug use without encouraging it, while reducing other side effects of drug use. In particular, this means access to syringe service programs for people who inject drugs, that link them to treatment, and provides access to sterile syringes. These programs help prevent transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infectious diseases associated with needle sharing, and reduce overdoses by deploying medication such as naloxone that help reverse the effects of opioids.”
One harm reduction policy that didn’t make the cut in Buttigieg’s plan is safe injection sites, where people could use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who could reverse overdoses and recommend treatment options. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who are also running for the Democratic nomination, both proposed legalizing such facilities as part of criminal justice reform plans they released this month.
“Decades of failed mental health and addiction policy, coupled with mass incarceration that criminalized mental illness and drug use, have left us with a mental health and addiction care system so broken that today there are more people with serious mental illness in prisons than in treatment facilities,” Buttigieg said.
The candidate also made ending incarceration for drug possession—as well as legalizing marijuana—central principles of his previously released criminal justice reform plan, which he released last month.
But while the prior plan did not explicitly describe the move as “decriminalizing” drugs, even though advocates commonly use that word to refer to policies that remove the threat of being imprisoned for possession, the new document does use that terminology—signaling a shift in clarity as Buttigieg continues to develop his campaign messaging.
In other instances, he borrowed language from his criminal justice reform plan, specifically as it concerns how criminalizing drug use can increase rates of overdose, for his mental health proposal.
“Despite equal rates of use, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for using marijuana,” the criminal justice plan states. “Research shows that incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths. In fact, some studies show that incarceration actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
Buttigieg mentioned that, as with drug offenses, black people are also more likely to die from overdoses. And that’s due to “the current broken system that criminalizes mental illness and addiction” that was “built during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.”
This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Action.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States
Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.
The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.
Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.
Got the answer: He believes it should be left up to the state. However, he does want to educate people on the effect marijuana has on young brain development, pregnant women and wants to come up with better guidance & testing for marijuana while driving. https://t.co/eifryNJB1j
— Kayla Sullivan (@KaylaReporting) August 14, 2019
It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.
Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.
Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”
“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”
Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.
During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”
“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”
He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.