Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Who Shares In Marijuana Taxes? The Surprising Answer"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Forbes piece by Robert Wood.  Here are excerpts:

Taxes on marijuana are big, and it’s easy to see why. A discussion about legalizing marijuana often segues into one about tax revenues. Marijuana for medical use is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana is legal in DC and in four states, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. More states will be coming.

In the meantime, cannabis — even for medical use — remains illegal under federal law. That leads to numerous legal woes for operations that are legal under state law. One sweet spot among legislators is tax revenue. It is a boon for the states. It could be a boon for the feds too.

The proposed Marijuana Tax Equity Act (H.R. 501), if passed, would end the federal prohibition on marijuana and allow it to be taxed. Growers, sellers and users would not to fear violating federal law. But dealing with taxes would be another story. The bill would impose an excise tax of 50% on cannabis sales and an annual occupational tax on workers in the field of legal marijuana.

Even if passed, one wonders if such high taxes could be collected. In the meantime, Colorado has trumpeted its tax revenues, though perhaps prematurely. It turned out that the $33.5 million Colorado projected to collect in the first six months of 2014 was too optimistic. When the smoke cleared, Colorado was missing $21.5 million in pot taxes! Yet the math isn’t difficult.

There’s a 2.9% sales tax and a 10% marijuana sales tax. Plus, there is a 15% excise tax on the average market rate of retail marijuana. If you add them up, it’s 27.9%. But much of the volume goes to black market buys where sales taxes aren’t paid. But that could change.

In fact, Colorado is making some marijuana businesses happy with its rebate program. Sales tax applies to marijuana sales and vendors are required to collect and remit the tax to the state. However, Colorado rewards all businesses with a rebate for the prompt payment of taxes, letting businesses keep a percentage each month. Calling it a ‘vendor fee,’ Colorado allows businesses to keep 3.3 percent of the 2.9 percent state sales tax.

According to estimates by the Denver Post, Colorado’s medical and recreational marijuana stores have collected — and kept — over $447,000 in sales taxes in the 10 months ended October 31, 2013. That could mean more than 400 marijuana stores in the state will end up clearing approximately $575,000 for all their trouble. It is what has allowed pot shops to keep more than $500K in sales tax.

That’s not bad, and at least it is something for their trouble. The idea that retailers should get a little sweetener for collecting sales tax is nothing new. But in the marijuana context, it can be especially attractive precisely because it would otherwise be hard to collect.

Already, with typically higher taxes for recreational than medical use, there is a clear incentive to resort to the illegal market. The Marijuana Policy Group suggested that only 60% of purchases in Colorado may be made through legal channels. One reason is price, another is taxes....

The 2.9% medical marijuana tax compared with 27% on the recreational variety is a big spread. Some patients could be reselling their 2.9% medical stock to the public. But the sales tax rebate may be one of the few places marijuana businesses feel fairly treated.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2014/12/who-shares-in-marijuana-taxes-the-surprising-answer.html

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