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Jasmine Davaloo

New Taxes for California Cannabis Industry

By Jasmine Davaloo
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Jasmine Davaloo

Welcome to the evolving world of cannabis legislation and taxation in California. With the recent 2018 midterm election, a green wave of new laws and regulations has washed ashore, and Taxnexus, a cannabis tax compliance service provider for cannabis businesses, has analyzed the results, looking for insights to guide cannabis business owners in 2019.

In summary, the trend of local counties and cities imposing new cannabis taxes on dispensaries, distributors and cultivators continues, but with some important lessons being learned.

A Brief History of California Cannabis Tax Regulations.

The legalization of cannabis in California brought with it cannabis excise tax and cultivation taxes with the hope of bringing in significant amounts of income in cannabis taxes. The state had projected $185M in cannabis tax revenue for the first six months of 2018. Although California has since collected tens of millions of dollars fewer than anticipated, it did bring in over $135M in the first and second quarters from a brand new industry.

Local governments are able to collect these taxes directly from cannabis businesses.  With the green light from the state and the need for a new source of revenue, many local governments followed suit and passed laws to impose taxes on cannabis businesses operating in their jurisdictions. The need for additional revenue is even greater for localities that allow cannabis business operations given that the state takes virtually all of the state-imposed cannabis taxes while the local government entities are burdened by the related costs of regulations and enforcement at the local level.

Cannabis business taxes have an extra allure for local jurisdictions. Unlike local sales and use taxes, the state does not require local cannabis business taxes to go through the state before a portion of it gets funneled back to the localities. Local governments are able to collect these taxes directly from cannabis businesses.

Since January 1, 2018, many local jurisdictions have come onboard and placed ballot measures for their voters to decide whether to tax cannabis businesses. According to research conducted by Taxnexus, by the end of the second quarter this year, there were over 500 different local cannabis tax rates in California.The new cannabis tax measures are also continuing the trend of widely ranging local cannabis tax laws.

Midterm Results Continue Overwhelming Support for Cannabis Industry

With about 50 cannabis tax measures placed on the November 6 local ballots, most of which passed with overwhelming support from voters, the number and variation of local cannabis business taxes continue to grow. This demonstrates the continuing trend of local governments welcoming cannabis businesses, the evolving voter attitude toward recreational cannabis, and perhaps most importantly, the localities’ desire to take their cut of the new industry’s tax revenue.

The new cannabis tax measures are also continuing the trend of widely ranging local cannabis tax laws. Given that the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act granted local jurisdictions control over deciding their own cannabis business regulations, there is no statewide uniformity. Here are a few examples of the cannabis business tax measures that were on local ballots on November 6:

San Francisco

While some local jurisdictions were quick to impose cannabis taxes, others have delayed in taxing their local cannabis businesses. San Francisco’s Proposition D, which received a 66% voter approval, won’t go into effect until January 1, 2021. It imposes taxes on cannabis businesses that do business in the city, whether or not they are physically located there. The new cannabis business taxes are as follows:

  • For cannabis retail businesses, 2.5% of gross receipts up to $1M and 5% of gross receipts over $1M.
  • For cannabis non-retail businesses, 1% tax of gross receipts up to $1M and 1.5% of gross receipts over $1M.

These taxes do not apply to the first $500,000 of recreational cannabis gross receipts nor revenues from medical cannabis retail sales. The measure allows the Board of Supervisors to adjust the tax rates up to 7%. The cannabis businesses taxes are expected to generate $5M to $12M in cannabis tax revenue, and will go into the City’s general fund.The new tax measures underscore the lack of uniformity in local cannabis business taxes throughout the state. 

Emeryville

Emeryville passed a new cannabis business tax measure to increase its current nominal rate. Measure S imposes a cannabis business tax of up to 6% of gross receipts. This is estimated to generate $2M in tax revenue to be used for unrestricted governmental purposes.

Oakland

Oakland is among the few local jurisdictions that placed a measure on its November 6 ballot to lower its existing cannabis business tax rates. Previously, Oakland imposed a 5% tax on medical cannabis and a 10% tax on recreational cannabis, for all cannabis activities throughout the supply chain. These are among some of the highest cannabis tax rates in the state and are squeezing out small operators. Although Oakland has long been seen as the leader in California’s cannabis industry, the high taxes are making it difficult for its cannabis businesses to compete with nearby cities that charge lower taxes. While the city acknowledged the hardship its high taxes imposed, it maintained that it could not lower the rates on its own and required the voter approval. On November 6th, Oakland voters passed Measure V by 78%, which gives the City Council the authority to lower the city’s cannabis tax rates through an ordinance. To give additional relief to the cannabis businesses in the city, this measure also allows them to deduct the cost of raw materials from their gross receipts- something they cannot do on their federal tax returns. Furthermore, local cannabis business taxes can now be paid on a quarterly basis instead of one annual payment at the beginning of each year, which was severely burdensome for most businesses.

Lake County

Voters in Lake County approved Measure K by a majority vote to tax cannabis businesses in the unincorporated county effecting January 1, 2021. The county was previously only taxing cultivators at $1 to $3 per square footage depending on the method of cultivation. These rates will be reduced to $1 per square footage for cultivators and nurseries, and other cannabis businesses will be taxes between 2.5% and 4% of their gross receipts.

Mountain View

While there is a maximum of four cannabis businesses permitted to operate in Mountain View, over 80% of voters approved Measure Q to tax them. The measure imposes up to 9% of gross receipts to fund general city purposes, with an estimated annual revenue of $1M.Some have even set the effective dates of their cannabis tax laws several years out to allow their local cannabis businesses an opportunity to establish roots and drive out the black market.

Lompoc

Some jurisdictions have passed more creative cannabis business tax regimens than one rate applicable to the entire supply chain. Voters in Lompoc in Santa Barbara County approved Measure D2018 to authorize the city to impose following cannabis business taxes:

  • Up to $0.06 per $1 (6%) of recreational retail sales proceeds;
  • Up to $0.01 per $1 (1%) of cultivation and nursery proceeds;
  • An annual flat fee tax of $15,000 if net income is less than $2M of manufacturing and distribution proceeds;
  • An annual flat fee tax of $30,000 if net income is $2 Million or more of manufacturing and distribution proceeds;
  • A total aggregate tax of $0.06 per $1.00 (6%) of microbusinesses proceeds, not including medical cannabis transaction proceeds; and
  • No tax on testing.

Riverbank

There are signs that other localities that waited to jump onboard have learned from these high-taxing jurisdictions and opted for lower rates. There are even those localities that although they do not statutorily permit cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdictions, they still want a piece of the action when it comes to cannabis taxes. The city of Riverbank in Stanislaus County currently does not allow cannabis businesses to operate without first obtaining a permit from City Hall and entering into a development agreement with the city that negotiates how much of their revenue the city would take. However, the voters just passed Measure B, which authorizes Riverbank’s City Council to impose a business license tax of up to 10% of gross receipts on cannabis businesses in the event the city allows cannabis businesses to operate within its city limits in the future. This tax has incentives other than the apparent potential of tax revenue. This guarantees the city a cut of the earnings of any illegal cannabis businesses, and serves as a protection in the event the permit and development agreement scheme the city has enacted is later found to be invalid.

The Chaos Continues

The new tax measures underscore the lack of uniformity in local cannabis business taxes throughout the state. Compliance is especially burdensome for delivery companies and multi-location and multi-license cannabis businesses. Cannabis businesses are required to keep up with new and evolving cannabis tax regimens, which, judging by the shortfall in cannabis tax revenues compared to their projections so far, is a difficult feat for these highly-regulated businesses.Of course, there are still some local governments that appear to have missed all the signs and have passed new high taxes. 

The overall trend in 2018, persisting through the midterm elections, is that more local jurisdictions are joining the cannabis tax bandwagon, and while the tax rates and structures are still all over the map, there appears to be some movement toward honing the cannabis business rates toward that “sweet spot.”

Cities like Oakland and Berkeley that immediately began to tax cannabis businesses at high rates have lowered or taken steps to lower their tax rates to keep their competitive edge and retain cannabis businesses within their jurisdictions. There are signs that other localities that waited to jump onboard have learned from these high-taxing jurisdictions and opted for lower rates. Some have even set the effective dates of their cannabis tax laws several years out to allow their local cannabis businesses an opportunity to establish roots and drive out the black market.

Of course, there are still some local governments that appear to have missed all the signs and have passed new high taxes. In due time, they, too, will give in to the market pressures and make necessary adjustments if they want to continue to benefit from the legal cannabis industry in their jurisdictions.


Taxnexus is an automated transaction-to-treasury cannabis tax compliance solution for the entire cannabis supply chain that provides point-of-sale state and local cannabis tax calculation, sales and use tax calculation, tax data management as the authority of record, and timely filing of returns with all applicable taxing authorities.

California Midterm Ballots To Bring Green Wave of Cannabis Tax Regulations

By Jasmine Davaloo
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As state and local jurisdictions rake in millions of dollars in tax revenue from the state’s legal cannabis industry, new states, counties and cities are piling onto the cannabis tax bandwagon. There are currently hundreds of local cannabis business taxes in place in California. On the November ballots, there are 47 new local cannabis tax measures. In fact, even some local jurisdictions that outlaw cannabis operations want a piece of the green pie and are asking voters to impose cannabis business taxes.

More cannabis tax measures being passed means more regulations and compliance responsibilities for cannabis businesses. This is especially taxing (pun intended) for multi-licensed and multi-location cannabis businesses. With hefty monetary penalties and even revocation of business licenses as consequences of noncompliance, adherence to state and local tax regulations is of paramount concern to cannabis businesses. Below is a list that Taxnexus has put together showing all of the cannabis tax measures on the November 6 ballots in California:

Taxnexus is an automated transaction-to-treasury cannabis tax compliance solution for the entire cannabis supply chain that provides point-of-sale state and local cannabis sales and use tax calculation, tax data management as the authority of record, and timely filing of returns with all applicable taxing authorities.

California City and County Cannabis Tax Measures November 6, 2018 Ballots

City County Measure Name Proposal
Adelanto San Bernardino S Adelanto Marijuana Tax To authorize the city to impose a tax on marijuana businesses of up to $5.00 per square foot on nurseries and up to 5% on other businesses.
Atascadero San Luis Obispo E-18 Atascadero Cannabis Business Tax To impose a tax on cannabis businesses at annual rates not to exceed $10.00 per canopy square foot for cultivation, 10% of gross receipts for retail cannabis businesses, 2.5% for testing laboratories, 3% for distribution businesses, and 6% of gross receipts for all other cannabis businesses.
Atwater Merced A Atwater Marijuana Tax To authorize the city to impose a 15% tax on marijuana businesses.
Benicia Solano E Benicia Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to impose a tax of up to $10 per square foot for marijuana nurseries and 6% of gross receipts for other marijuana businesses.
Capitola Santa Cruz I Capitola Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at a rate of up to 7% with no expiration date to fund general city purposes.
Chula Vista San Diego Q Chula Vista Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at the following rates: 5% to 15% of gross receipts or $5 to $25 per square foot for cultivation.
Colfax Placer C City of Colfax Cannabis Business Tax To tax cannabis businesses at annual rates not to exceed $10.00 per canopy square foot for cultivation (adjustable for inflation), 6% of gross receipts for retail cannabis businesses, and 4% for all other cannabis businesses.
Colton San Bernardino U Colton Marijuana Tax To authorize the city to impose a tax on marijuana businesses of up to $25.00 per square foot on nurseries and up to 10% on other businesses.
Emeryville Alameda S Emeryville Marijuana Business Tax To enact a marijuana business tax at a rate of up to 6% of gross receipts to fund general city purposes.
Fresno Fresno A Fresno Marijuana Business Tax To tax marijuana businesses at rates of up to $12 per canopy square foot and up to 10% of gross receipts for medical dispensaries and other marijuana businesses, with revenue dedicated to the city’s general fund an a community benefit fund.
Goleta Santa Barbara Z2018 Goleta Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at the following initial rates with a cap at 10% of sales: 5% for retailers; 4% for cultivators; 2% for manufacturers; and 1% for distributors/nurseries.
Hanford Kings C Hanford Cannabis Business Tax To tax cannabis businesses at an annual maximum rate of $7 per square foot of canopy for cultivation businesses using artificial lighting only, $4 per square foot of canopy for cultivation businesses using a combination of artificial and natural lighting, $2 per square foot of canopy for cultivation businesses using natural lighting only, and $1 per square foot of canopy for nurseries, 1% of gross receipts of laboratories, 4% of gross receipts of retail sales, 2% of gross receipts of distribution and 2.5% of gross receipts of all other types of cannabis businesses.
Hesperia San Bernardino T Hesperia Marijuana Tax To authorize the city to impose a tax on marijuana businesses of up to $15.00 per square foot on nurseries and up to 6% on other businesses.
La Mesa San Diego V La Mesa Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at rates of up to 6% gross receipts and up to $10 per square foot of cultivation.
Lassen Lassen M Lassen County Commercial Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the county to enact a tax on commercial marijuana at rates of between $0.50 to $3.00 per square foot for cultivation and 2.5% to 8% on gross receipts for other businesses, such as retail, distribution, manufacturing, processing, and testing.
Lompoc Santa Barbara D2018 Lompoc Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city tax marijuana businesses at the following rates: $0.06 per $1 of non-medical retail sales proceeds; $0.01 per $1 of cultivation proceeds; $15,000 for net income less than $2 million of manufacturing/distribution proceeds; $30,000 for net income $2 Million or more of manufacturing/distribution proceeds; a total aggregate tax of $0.06 per $1.00 of microbusinesses proceeds; and no tax on testing.
Malibu Los Angeles G Malibu Marijuana Business Authorization and Tax To authorize the sale of recreational marijuana in the city and imposing a general tax at the rate of 2.5% of gross receipts on the sale of recreational marijuana.
Marina Monterey V Marina Marijuana Business Tax To authorize marijuana businesses to operate in the city and authorizing the city to tax marijuana businesses at rates of up to 5% of gross receipts, with revenue funding general city purposes.
Maywood Los Angeles CT Maywood Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at a maximum rate of 10% of gross receipts to fund general city purposes.
Moreno Valley Riverside M City of Moreno Valley Commercial Cannabis Activity Tax To enact a tax on cannabis sales and cultivation, not exceeding 8% of gross receipts and $15 per square foot of cultivation.
Morgan Hill Santa Clara I Morgan Hill Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at annual rates up to $15.00 per canopy square foot for cultivation and up to 10% of gross receipts for all other marijuana businesses.
Mountain View Santa Clara Q Mountain View Marijuana Business Tax To enact a tax on marijuana businesses of up to 9% of gross receipts to fund general city purposes.
Oakland Alameda V Oakland Marijuana Business Tax Amendments To amend the marijuana business tax law to: allow marijuana business to deduct the cost of raw materials from their gross receipts and to pay taxes on a quarterly basis; and allow the city council to amend the law in any manner that does not increase the tax rate.
Oroville Butte T Oroville Marijuana Tax To authorize an annual gross receipts tax on cannabis businesses at rate not to exceed 1%, with initial rates of 5% on retailers and manufacturers; 4% on cultivators; 3% on distributors; 2% on nurseries; 0% on testing laboratories; and 7% on microbusiness to generate approximately $300,000 to $600,000 in annual revenue.
Paso Robles San Luis Obispo I-18 Paso Robles Cannabis Business Tax To impose a maximum tax rate on every person or entity operating or conducting a cannabis business within the City a cultivation tax of up to$20.00 per square foot of space utilized in connection with the cultivation and processing of cannabis; a gross receipts tax of up to 10% for all cannabis transportation; a gross receipts tax of up to 15% for all cannabis manufacturing, testing, and distribution; and a gross receipts tax of up to 10% for dispensaries.
Pomona Los Angeles PC Pomona Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at rates of $10.00 per canopy square foot for cultivation and up to 6% of gross receipts for all other marijuana businesses to fund general city purposes.
Riverbank Stanislaus B City of Riverbank Cannabis Business License Tax To authorize the City Council of the City to impose a business license tax at a rate of up to 10% of gross receipts on cannabis businesses and dispensaries, to help fund general municipal services.
San Bernardino San Bernardino W San Bernardino Marijuana Tax To authorize the city to impose a tax on marijuana businesses of up to $10.00 per square foot on nurseries and up to 6% on other businesses.
San Diego San Diego AA City Council Marijuana Business Tax Measure To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at the following rates: $14 per square foot; up to 8% on manufacturing and distribution; up to 10% on medicinal retail; up to 12% on adult-use retail; and up to 3.5% on testing.
San Francisco San Francisco D San Francisco Marijuana Business Tax Increase To tax marijuana businesses with gross receipts over $500,000 at a rate between 1% and 5%, exempting retail sales of medical marijuana, and expanding the marijuana business tax to businesses not physically located in San Francisco.
Santa Ana Orange Y Santa Ana Recreational Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at rates of $0.25 to $35.00 for gross square footage and up to 10 percent for cultivating, manufacturing, distributing, selling, or testing.
Santa Clara Santa Clara M Santa Clara Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax commercial marijuana businesses up to 10% of gross receipts and up to $25 per square foot for cultivation.
Simi Valley Ventura Q Cannabis Business Tax To enact a maximum tax on gross receipts of cannabis businesses in the City after January 1, 2019, as follows: for testing, 2.5%; for retail sales, retail delivery, or microbusiness retail, 6%; for distribution not to consumers, 3%; for manufacturing, processing or nonretail microbusiness, and any other type of business not otherwise specified, 4%; and for cultivation, a tax per square foot of canopy ranging from $2.00 per square foot of canopy to $10.00 per square foot of canopy, depending on the type of lighting (artificial or natural) used.
Solvang Santa Barbara F2018 Solvang Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at an initial rate of 5 percent of gross receipts with a cap of 10 percent and a maximum annual increase of 1 percent.
Sonora Tuolumne N City of Sonora Cannabis Business License Tax To enact a business license tax at a rate of up to 15% of gross receipts on cannabis businesses, to help fund general municipal services; and increasing the City’s appropriations limit for the Fiscal Years 2019-2023 by the amount of tax proceeds received.
Suisun Solano C Suisun Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to impose a tax of up to $25 per square foot and 15% gross receipts for marijuana businesses.
Union City Alameda DD Union City Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the city to tax marijuana businesses at rates of $12.00 per square foot for cultivation and 6 percent of gross receipts for other businesses to fund general municipal services.
Vista San Diego Z Vista Retail Medical Marijuana Sales and Tax Initiative (November 2018) To authorize commercial retails sales of medicinal marijuana for up to 11 retailers and enacting a 7% tax on the business’ gross receipts.
Contra Costa R Contra Costa County Marijuana Business Tax To authorize Contra Costa County to tax commercial marijuana businesses in the unincorporated area in the amount of up to $7.00 per canopy square foot for cultivation and up to 4 percent gross receipts for all other cannabis businesses to fund general County expenses.
El Dorado N, P, Q, R, S Commercial Cannabis Tax Measures To impose a general tax on any independently authorized commercial cannabis activity in the unincorporated areas of El Dorado County at rates up to: $30 per square foot or 15% for cultivation; 10% for distribution, manufacturing, and retail; and 5% for testing laboratories, effective until amended or repealed, with estimated annual revenue of $1,900,000 to $52,800,000.

To authorize outdoor and mixed-light (greenhouse) commercial cannabis cultivation for medicinal use on parcels of at least 10 acres zoned Rural Lands, Planned Agricultural, Limited Agricultural, and Agricultural Grazing that are restricted in canopy size, required to pay a County commercial cannabis tax, and subject to a site-specific review and discretionary permitting process with notification to surrounding property owners and environmental regulation.

To authorize outdoor and mixed-light (greenhouse) commercial cannabis cultivation for recreational adult use on parcels of at least 10 acres zoned Rural Lands, Planned Agricultural, Limited Agricultural, and Agricultural Grazing that are restricted in canopy size, required to pay a County commercial cannabis tax, and subject to a site-specific review and discretionary permitting process with notification to surrounding property owners and environmental regulation.

To authorize the retail sale, delivery, distribution, and indoor cultivation of commercial cannabis for medicinal use on parcels zoned Community Commercial, Regional Commercial, General Commercial, Industrial High, and Industrial Low that are restricted in number and concentration, required to pay a County commercial cannabis tax, and subject to a site-specific review and discretionary permitting process with notification to surrounding property owners and environmental regulation.

To authorize the retail sale, delivery, distribution, and indoor cultivation of commercial cannabis for recreational adult use on parcels zoned Community Commercial, Regional Commercial, General Commercial, Industrial High, and Industrial Low that are restricted in number and concentration, required to pay a County commercial cannabis tax, and subject to a site-specific review and discretionary permitting process with notification to surrounding property owners and environmental regulation.

Lake K Lake County Marijuana Business Tax To authorize the county to enact a marijuana business tax at the rates of $1.00 per square foot for nurseries and cultivators and between 2.5% and 4% for other businesses.
San Joaquin B Unincorporated County of San Joaquin Cannabis Business Tax To impose a special tax on commercial cannabis businesses in unincorporated San Joaquin County at a rate of 3.5% to 8% of gross receipts, with an additional cultivation tax of $2.00 per square foot of cultivation space.
Tuolumne M Tuolumne County Commercial Cannabis Business Tax The County to impose a 0%-15% gross receipts tax on commercial cannabis businesses (but no less than $0-$15 per square foot for cultivation businesses as annually increased by a consumer price index) in the unincorporated area of Tuolumne County, and to authorize the Board of Supervisors to implement and adjust the tax at its discretion, with funds staying local for unrestricted general revenue purposes, including but not limited to public safety, health,environmental protection and addressing industry impacts, unless repealed or amended by voters.