Marijuana is now legal in some capacity in 28 states, however, the federal government still considers the drug an illegal Class I narcotic and business owners in the industry have hit a wall with IRC §280E.
The Internal Revenue Code currently states: “No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of Schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.”
What this means is that IRC §280E will only cease to apply to cannabis businesses if and when cannabis is no longer classified as a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance. When IRC §280E was enacted in 1982 to overturn the result in the Tax Court case Jeffrey Edmondson v. Commissioner, it held that the taxpayer, who was engaged in an illegal drug dealing business, was entitled to deductions for “telephone, auto, and rental expenses” that he incurred in his business.
The Senate report makes clear that IRC §280E was intended to overturn the decision in Edmondson and deny deductions to illegal drug dealing businesses. However, for Constitutional reasons, Congress did not attempt to prevent taxpayers from using cost of goods sold (COGS) to compute gross income. Thus, IRC §280E denies all deductions from gross income in computing taxable income, but illegal drug dealing businesses are permitted to take COGS into account in computing gross income.
IRC §61 defines “gross income” as “all income from whatever source derived.” One category of income listed in IRC §61 is “gross income derived from business.” Reg. §1.61-3 states that “gross income” for manufacturing and merchandising businesses, “means total sales, less the cost of goods sold.” As the Tax Court has observed, “cost of goods sold is an item taken into account in computing gross income and is not an item of deduction.”
There are various strategies that those in the marijuana industry have employed. The first approach derived from Californians Helping to Alleviate Medical Problems, Inc. (CHAMP) v. Commissioner.
In this Tax Court Case, the California-based marijuana dispensary provided marijuana to its patients, but also provided non-cannabis services, including counseling and caregiving services for its patients. This allowed the company to fully deduct the expenses associated with those practices.
It is perfectly okay to run two separate businesses under one roof. If the business is a medical marijuana dispensary, it could certainly provide other caregiving services under another company.