While we’re not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice, there are a few key tax laws that cannabis retailers in California are responsible for now that cannabis is legal. The goal of this article is to give you an overview of these taxes and make you aware of your responsibilities as a cannabis business owner in California. In subsequent posts, we’ll dig into the excise, sales, and use taxes to give you everything you need to know about these tax requirements – and make sure your business stays compliant. For now, here are the basics you need to know.
Are you a cannabis retailer?
You are a retailer if you sell cannabis and/or cannabis products directly to a consumer. Microbusinesses that are licensed as retailers also must abide by the same regulations as traditional retailers.
A cannabis microbusiness is type of license category (Type 12) that allows your company to engage in multiple cannabis activities at one location. For example, as a microbusiness you could cultivate up to 10,000 sq. ft. of cannabis canopy and distribute your product under one license. Because often you are selling your product to a consumer, these microbusinesses follow the same regulations as retailers (detailed here). If you’re not sure whether you’re a cannabis retailer, get in touch with California Cannabis CPAs.
First Steps to Becoming a Cannabis Retailer
Before we dive into the tax law basics, a quick refresh: to be a cannabis retailer in California, you must start by applying for a seller’s permit and also secure local and state cannabis permits. Click this link to register with the CDTFA for a seller's permit. For details on what you need to get a seller’s permit – including a checklist of the documents you need to submit in your application – check out this blog post. Please keep in mind that you may be responsible for getting additional permits and licenses from your local county or city government. More on that to come!
Next, if you are an existing cannabis retailer (i.e., not a new company) you are also required to report all your sales and pay sales tax due to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). The amount of tax you’ll pay is based on your gross receipts, meaning the tax rate is set based on where the sale takes place and when the sale is over the counter vs. when you deliver the item yourself. Finally, keep in mind that as you grow your business, you will be taxed on items you use that are purchased without tax – so hold onto your receipts and keep track of your inventory.
Retailer Tax Law Basics
There are a few key taxes that retailers are responsible for as of January 1, 2018.
Anyone who cultivates cannabis is responsible for paying a cultivation tax – including retailers who grow their own cannabis. Pay this tax to the distributor in a similar process to the excise tax collection. Current cultivation tax rates are $9.25 per dry-weight ounce of cannabis flowers, as well as a tax of $2.75 per dry-weight ounce of cannabis leaves. Exempt from the cultivation tax are businesses that cultivate cannabis for personal use or by a qualified patient or primary caregiver -- i.e., medical cannabis cultivators.
Cannabis Excise Tax
An excise tax is a fancy name for a tax paid when purchases are made on a specific good – like cannabis and cannabis related products. The excise tax is usually included in the price of the product, meaning you’ll collect this tax from your customers every time you make a sale. Charge excise tax on everything from cannabis to cannabis edibles, oils, lotions, and waxes.
How much should excise tax be? Add on an extra 15% of the average market price to the listed retail price of your product. The average market price is based on the type of transaction between the seller and you. We will dig into this in detail later on.
Note that you are not required to list the excise tax separately on your receipt – this makes it much easier for you to pay your sales tax, as you will see in the following section. You do need to have the phrase “The cannabis excise taxes are included in the total amount of this invoice” included on every receipt.
There remains an exemption for sales and use tax for all medicinal cannabis products, but usually, as a retailer, you will need to pay sales tax. Sales tax applies to retail sales of “tangible personal property” in California – in plain terms, this means anything you can touch and feel, including cannabis, cannabis products, and cannabis accessories such as rolling papers, vape pens, or pipes.
When calculating the amount of sales tax due, you must include the amount of your excise tax in the receipts. Since the excise tax should be included in your total sales price, this shouldn’t require any additional effort from you in totally your gross sales tax. You are liable for sales tax even if you don’t collect sales tax reimbursement. This means you must pay the excise tax even if you don’t sell the product.
How much is your sales tax? That depends. The sales tax rate is based on where your sale takes place when it is over the counter, or when you deliver the product yourself. So, for example, if you sell cannabis at your store location in Los Angeles, you may have a different sales tax than if you make a delivery to a customer in San Diego. All tax rates are on the CDTFA website – and more on this tax to come.
Use tax is a tax on items you use or consume that you purchased without paying tax. An example of a use tax in everyday life might be a tax on getting a massage. The use tax rate is the same rate as your sales tax rate. Broadly, expect to pay use tax on items you purchased outside the state of California without paying California state sales or use tax. If this sounds confusing, it is. We’ll cover in greater detail what kinds of products you can expect to pay use tax on in future posts. In the meantime, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experts at California Cannabis CPAs!