Internal Revenue Code section 280E denies deductions or credits for expenses in a business involving drugs “prohibited by Federal law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.” 280E reform is vital if the cannabis industry is ever going to reach its full potential. The section of the tax code known as 280E results in many state-legal cannabis businesses having to pay taxes on their expenses, unlike other non-cannabis businesses. This can result in tax rates of 70 to 85 percent of profits for most of the cannabis industry. For at least one cannabis store in Washington, Cannabis City, 280E rules are hampering success. Per Crosscut.Com:
As of Dec. 4, Cannabis City owed $631,171, one quarter of the shop’s $2,524,685 in total sales, to the state in the form of excise tax, according to state Liquor Control Board figures. Because of the 280E provision this excise tax expense cannot be written off. The Internal Revenue Service would view the $631,171 as income and tax it accordingly.
“I’m being taxed on the tax I’m paying the state of Washington,” Lathrop said.
Dean Guske is an accountant who has about 150 clients in the cannabis industry. He sees the excise tax as a critical challenge for Washington’s marijuana businesses.
“I would say that the biggest problem right now under 502 is the current structure of the excise tax,” he said, referring to Initiative 502, the ballot measure that voters approved in 2012 legalizing recreational marijuana in Washington. “It’s making it extremely difficult for retailers in particular to really be profitable.”
280E reform is not a sexy issue to people that aren’t directly involved in the cannabis industry, and the federal government knows that. Unlike SWAT raids which involve a lot of guns blazing and doors being kicked in which the media loves to cover, 280E reform is boring tax stuff to most people. However, if the cannabis industry is ever to reach its full potential, 280E reform needs to be addressed. The cannabis industry can still be profitable without it, but much less so than if cannabis businesses were allowed to operate on an even playing field with like other industries.