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A Dank Opportunity: Private Equity in the Cannabis Industry & Compliance with the Securities Act

By Kayla Kuri
1 Comment

Under current federal law, financial institutions are extremely limited in the services and resources that they can offer to cannabis companies. Without access to traditional financing, cannabis companies have been forced to turn to outside investments to finance their operations. The private equity approach can be a “dank” opportunity for cannabis companies; however, these companies should be cognizant of the securities laws implications that are present with this type of business structure. The focus of most cannabis companies when forming their business is compliance with the regulatory scheme of their jurisdiction as it relates to the operation of a cannabis business. While compliance with these laws is important, it is also important that these companies ensure that they are compliant with the Securities Act of 1933 (the Securities Act) before accepting investments from outside sources.

Securities Act Application

Oftentimes, smaller companies don’t realize that they are subject to the Securities Act. However, the definition of a “security” under the Securities Act is very broad1 and under S.E.C. v. W.J. Howey Co., an investment in a common enterprise, such as a partnership or limited liability company, where the investor expects to earn profits from the efforts of others is considered a “security” and thus, subject to the rigorous requirements of the Securities Act.2 In general, all companies offering securities within the United States are required to register those securities with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) unless a registration exemption is available.3 A company can register its securities (i.e., its ownership interests offered to investors) with the SEC by filing a Registration Statement. These statements generally offer investors certain information about the company in order to enable investors to be able to make an informed decision about their investment. Filing a Registration Statement can be both time-consuming and costly, and most companies want to avoid filing one if they can. Luckily, the Securities Act offers certain exemptions from registration requirements to companies who meet certain standards.4 While there are numerous exemptions from securities registration, the most common exemptions used are the Regulation D5 exemptions, which provides three different exemptions based on the size of the offering and the sophistication of the investors, and the Rule 1476 Intrastate exemption.

Regulation D Exemptions

Rule 504-Limited Offerings

Rule 504, often called the “Limited Offering” exemption, provides an exemption from securities registration for companies who limit the offer and sale of their securities to no more than $5,000,000 in a twelve-month period.7 Unlike the other Regulation D exemptions, which are discussed in further detail below, the Limited Offering exemption does not have any limitations on the level of sophistication or number of investors.8 This means that companies who rely on this exemption do not have to verify the net worth or income of their investors or limit the number of investors in the company. Like all Regulation D exemptions, companies relying on the Limited Offering exemption are required to file a “Form D” with the SEC within 15 days of the first securities sale.9 A Form D is a relatively simple form which provides basic information about a company to the SEC, including the registration exemption that is being relied upon. A copy of Form D can be found here.

Rule 506(b)

The “Private Offering” exemption can be found at Rule 506(b) of Regulation D.10 This exemption is commonly used for larger investment offerings with varying levels of investor sophistication. The Private Offering exemption can be used for investment offerings of any size so long as the company: (1) does not use general solicitation or advertising, such as newspaper articles or seminars, to attract investors; and (2) limits the number of “non-accredited investors” to no more than 35.11 “Accredited investors” are those investors whom the Securities Act deems sophisticated enough to properly weigh the risk of their investment in the company. In order to qualify as an accredited investor, the investor must:

  1. Have an individual income of more than $200,000 in the past two years
  2. Have a joint income with their spouse of more than $300,000 in the past two years
  3. Have an individual net worth, or joint net worth with their spouse, in excess of $1,000,000 or:
  4. Be a director, executive officer or manager of the Company.12

If the investor is a corporation, partnership, limited liability company or other non-trust entity, then to qualify as an accredited investor, it must either have assets in excess of $5,000,000 or each of its equity owners must meet one of the requirements for individuals listed above.13 If the investor is a trust, then the trust must: (1) have total assets in excess of $5,000,000 and the investment decision must be made by a “sophisticated person” (i.e., the person who is making the investment decision has such knowledge and experience in financial and business matters that he or she is capable of evaluating the merits and risks of an investment in the company); (2) have a trustee making the investment decision that is a bank or other financial institution; or (3) be revocable at any time and the grantor(s) of the trust must meet one of the requirements for individuals listed above.14

The Private Offering exemption allows a company to have an unlimited number of accredited investors, but only up to 35 non-accredited investors. However, companies should be very cautious of allowing non-accredited investors to invest in the company. The Securities Act requires that companies make extensive disclosures to non-accredited investors which are essentially the same requirements as the company would have to provide in a registered security offering. These requirements include providing investors with financial statements, operations plan, detailed descriptions of the company’s business, description of all property owned, discussion and analysis of the company’s financial condition and the results of operations, biographies of and descriptions of each officer and director, as well as other descriptions regarding the details of the company.15 Failure to provide the necessary information to non-accredited investors can disqualify companies from the benefits offered by the Private Offering Exemption. Companies should be very cautious when relying on the Private Offering exemption. If a company does choose to utilize the Private Offering exemption, they must file a Form D with the SEC within 15 days of the first securities sale.

Rule 506(c)

Rule 506(c), the “General Solicitation” exemption, is similar to the Private Offering Exemption. Unlike the Private Offering exemption, companies relying on the General Solicitation exemption are permitted to use general solicitation and advertising to advertise their securities to potential investors.16 However, investors relying on the General Solicitation exemption must only sell their securities to accredited investors.17 Under Rule 506(c), the company selling the securities must take steps to verify the accredited-investor status of their investors.18 These steps can include reviewing past tax returns, reviewing bank statements, or obtaining confirmation from the investor’s attorney or accountant that such person is an accredited investor.19 Like the other Regulation D exemptions, companies relying on the General Solicitation exemption should file a Form D with the SEC.Private equity can be a dank opportunity for cannabis companies, but it is critical that these companies ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable securities laws.

Intrastate Exemption

Rule 147, known as the “Intrastate” exemption, provides an exemption from securities registration for companies who limit the offer and sale of their securities to investors who are residents of, if they are an individual, or have its principal place of business in, if they are an entity, the state where the company is organized and has its principal place of business.20 The Intrastate exemption permits general solicitation to investors who are in-state residents, and there are no limitations on the size of the offering or the number of investors, whether accredited or unaccredited. In addition, companies relying on this exemption are not required to file a Form D with the SEC. The Intrastate exemption can be very desirable to companies who wish to obtain a small number of key investors within their communities.

State Requirements

In addition to complying with the Securities Act, companies are also required to comply with the securities laws of each state where their securities are sold. Each state has its own securities laws which may place additional requirements on companies in addition to the Securities Act. Most states (including California, Colorado, Oregon, and Oklahoma) require that a copy of the Form D filed with the SEC be filed with the state securities commission if securities are sold within that state. Before offering securities for sale in any state, companies should thoroughly review the applicable state securities laws to ensure that they are in compliance with all state requirements in addition to the requirements under the Securities Act.

Additional Considerations for Cannabis Companies

Despite the fact that the purchase and sale of cannabis is illegal under federal law, cannabis companies are still subject to the Securities Act in the same manner as every other company. However, the SEC has issued a warning to investors to be wary of making investments in cannabis companies due to the high fraud and market manipulation risks.21 The SEC has a history of issuing trading suspensions against cannabis companies who allegedly provided false information to their investors.22 Cannabis companies who wish to rely on any of the registration exemptions under the Securities Act should ensure that they fully disclose all details of the company and the risks involved in investing in it to all of their potential investors. While cannabis companies are permitted to rely on the registration exemptions under the Securities Act, the SEC appears to place additional scrutiny on cannabis companies who offer securities to outside investors. It is possible to fully comply with the onerous requirements of the Securities Act, but cannabis companies should engage legal counsel to assist with their securities offerings. Failure to comply with the Securities Act could result in sanctions and monetary penalties from the SEC, as well as potentially jeopardize a cannabis company’s license to sell cannabis. It is extremely important that companies seek advice from legal counsel who has experience in these types of offerings and the requirements of the Securities Act and applicable state securities laws. Private equity can be a dank opportunity for cannabis companies, but it is critical that these companies ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable securities laws.


References

  1. See 15 U.S.C § 77b(a)(1)
  2. 328 U.S. 293 (1946).
  3. 15 U.S.C § 77f.
  4. See 15 U.S.C § 77d.
  5. 17 CFR § 230.500.
  6. 17 CFR § 230.147.
  7. 17 CFR § 230.504.
  8. Id.
  9. Id.
  10. 17 CFR § 230.506(b).
  11. Id.
  12. 17 CFR § 230.501.
  13. Id.
  14. Id.
  15. 17 CFR § 230.502; 17 CFR § 239.90; 17 CFR § 210.8; 17 CFR § 239.10.
  16. 17 CFR § 230.506(c).
  17. Id.
  18. Id.
  19. Id.
  20. 17 CFR § 230.147.
  21. Investor Alert: Marijuana Investments and Fraud. (2018, September 5).
  22. Investor Alert: Marijuana-Related Investments. (2014, May 16).

How Cannabis Businesses Can Prepare for Tax Season

By Melissa Diaz
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A Little About 280E

The 280E statute bans businesses from deducting business expenses for gross income associated with the trafficking of Schedule I or II substances. While other businesses can deduct any number of expenses when filing their taxes — employee salaries, rent, equipment, electricity, etc. — 280E limits cannabis companies to only expensing deductions directly related to earning a profit, or the cost of goods sold (COGs).

For example, a dispensary whose square footage is split between 60% sales floor and 40% lobby may only deduct 60% of rent expenses because that’s the portion dedicated to COGs. Transactions do not occur in the lobby, so that portion of the rent is not deductible.

Image: Flickr

So long as cannabis remains a Schedule I substance, companies that produce, sell and otherwise touch the plant in their operations must comply with 280E.

Tips for Tax Success

While taxes can be complex and stressful for cannabis businesses, it is possible to limit the headaches. With tax season right around the corner, here are a handful of tips to ensure a successful filing.

  • Close Out Your Books. Before tax preparation can even start, cannabis businesses want to make sure to close out their financials for the previous year. It may sound like a no-brainer, but with the extra scrutiny facing companies in the industry and the nuances of 280E, it’s extremely important to have fully reconciled and closed-out books to work from when preparing taxes. Incomplete books can cause delays and add unnecessary extra stressors to the process that could result in penalties or additional liabilities.
  • Consult a Cannabis Tax Professional. Once books are ready to go, it’s time to consult a tax professional who has experience in the cannabis industry. A cannabis-focused tax pro will be familiar with the intricacies of 280E and and will be able to identify relevant business expenses to ensure compliance and limit liabilities. In addition to 280E issues, a competent accountant will also be able to highlight any other tax code changes that may impact a business. Every business is different — even in the cannabis industry — and since the tax code is large, complex and prone to new rules and interpretations, it’s important to have a strong accountant guiding the way.
  • Justify Your Numbers. After consulting with a tax professional and identifying relevant business expenses, it’s time to back up the numbers. This is where strong record-keeping comes into play. Ongoing regulatory hurdles limit cannabis firms’ ability to participate in the financial system where, generally, record creation is inherent with each transaction. But in a cash-heavy industry like cannabis, record creation and retention fall on the businesses themselves. This is because cash transactions don’t come with any built-in records. That inherent lack of documentation is yet another potential pitfall for cannabis businesses and taxes since large amounts of cash often raise eyebrows at the IRS. It is up to businesses to provide adequate proof of their tax numbers. Since the IRS will put zero effort into investigating the accuracy of your numbers, it will likely assume the worst when reviewing your filing.

Preparation is King

Taxes can be stressful. But they don’t have to be. Navigating tax season as a cannabis business is all about preparation. By putting in the work and partnering with an experienced tax professional, cannabis operators will be able to avoid penalties, limit their audit risk and stay on track with their business goals.

New Taxes for California Cannabis Industry

By Jasmine Davaloo
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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 over 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.