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Deductions Denied to Medical Marijuana Dispensary

A nonprofit corporation that operated a medical-marijuana dispensary legally under California law was not allowed to claim deductions for business expenses on its federal return. Code Sec. 280E, which prevents any trade or business that consists of trafficking in controlled substances from deducting any business expenses, applied.

Meaning of “Consists of”
The corporation argued that a business does not “consist of” drug trafficking within the meaning of Code Sec. 280E unless its activities relate exclusively with drug trafficking (i.e., selling marijuana). Since its dispensary offered services and goods to its clients other than the sale of medical marijuana, the corporation claimed that Code Sec. 280E does not apply to any of its activities.

The court rejected this argument, noting that it had previously considered and rejected the same argument in an earlier case involving a different taxpayer ( M. Olive, Dec. 59,146, aff’d, CA-9, 2015-2 ustc ¶50,377). Although the phrase “consists of” in common usage refers to an exhaustive or exclusive list, the court noted that the corporation’s interpretation would render Code Sec. 280E ineffective. For example, a drug dealer selling a single item that was not a controlled substance would not be covered by the provision. The court found that various dictionary definitions, certain usage in other Code Sections, and case law that considered the meaning of the phrase did not require an interpretation based on exclusiveness.

Non-Trafficking Trades or Businesses
Although Code Sec. 280E applied to deductions related to the corporation’s marijuana sales, the court had previously ruled that it does not apply to any separate, non-trafficking trades or businesses ( Californians Helping to Alleviate Med. Problems, Inc. (CHAMP), Dec. 56,935). The court considered whether any of the corporation’s non-trafficking activities were separate trades or businesses. According to the corporation, non-trafficking activities consisted of sales of products with no marijuana, therapeutic services, and brand development.

The court concluded that the sale of products other marijuana than at the corporation’s dispensaries was too closely linked to the sale of the marijuana itself to constitute a separate trade or business. The products generally related to the promotion or use of marijuana and were sold by the same staff that sold the marijuana. Similarly, free “holistic” services that were paid for with approximately one percent of the proceeds from its marijuana sales were not a separate trade or business. Finally, the corporation’s brand development activity was entirely entwined with the marijuana business and could not be treated as a separate enterprise.

Cost of Goods Sold
Although the corporation was not entitled to any business deductions, it was liable for tax only on its gross receipts as reduced by cost of goods sold. For purposes of determining cost of goods sold, the court determined that the corporation could not apply Code Sec. 263A to include indirect expenses. Code Sec. 263A(a)(2) specifically prohibits the capitalization of otherwise nondeductible costs, such as drug trafficking expenses. Therefore, only direct expenses (and a few specified indirect expenses) required to be included in cost of goods sold under the general rules of Code Sec. 471 could be taken into account. For purposes of applying Code Sec. 471, the corporation was considered a reseller rather a producer because it had no ownership in the plants from which the marijuana it sold was produced.

AICPA, ABA Urge Extensive Changes to Proposed Transition Tax Rules

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation are urging the IRS to make extensive changes to proposed “transition tax” rules.

Transition Tax

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97), enacted last December, revived and amended Code Sec. 965. The new Code Sec. 965 generally requires U.S. shareholders pay a mandatory one-time repatriation “transition” tax on untaxed foreign earnings of certain foreign corporations.

“The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act treats these foreign earnings as repatriated and places a 15.5 percent tax on cash or cash equivalents, and an 8 percent tax on the remaining earnings. Generally, the transition tax can be paid in installments over an eight-year period when a taxpayer files a timely election under section 965(h),”Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The IRS held an October 22 public hearing on NPRM REG-104226-18, which provides rules for implementing the transition tax created under last year’s tax reform. IRS officials did not provide any feedback at the hearing.

AICPA Recommendations

In an October 31 comment letter to the IRS, the AICPA offered 15 recommendations to provide taxpayers further clarity and guidance on tax reform’s transition tax requirements. The AICPA’s recommendations include the following:

  • Clarify that previously taxed earnings (PTI) under Code Sec. 965(b)(4)(A) are deemed included in Code Sec. 951 for purposes of applying Code Sec. 1248(d).
  • Clarify that the portion of a Code Sec. 965 inclusion liability attributable to Code Sec. 956 is eligible for the appropriate reduced rate of tax as a consequence of the deduction provided for in Code Sec. 965(c).
  • Provide taxpayers with additional flexibility when making the basis adjustment election under Proposed Reg. §1.965-2(f) by including the ability to make partial basis adjustments, elect adjustments on an entity-by-entity basis, and modify the proposed consistency provision on related persons.
  • Provide guidance as to the ordering of distributions of PTI between Code Sec. 965(a) PTI and Code Sec. 965(b) PTI for purposes of applying Code Sec. 959(c) and Code Sec. 986(c).
  • Provide relief to taxpayers that make or have made late elections under the proposed regulations and clarify the procedure for obtaining such relief.
  • Provide that U.S. shareholders that are members of the same consolidated group are treated as a single U.S. shareholder for all purposes with respect to Code Sec. 965.
  • Clarify that the PTI amount created under Code Sec. 965(b)(4)(A) is not taken into account under Code Sec. 864(e)(4)(D) for purposes of allocating and apportioning interest expense.
  • Exercise the authority under Code Sec. 965(o) to provide relief from the income inclusion to certain affected taxpayers. Specifically, provide guidance excluding a foreign corporation that is considered a controlled foreign corporation (CFC) solely as a result of the “downward attribution” rules of Code Sec. 318(a)(3) from the definition of an specified foreign corporation (SFC) for any U.S. shareholder not considered a related party (within the meaning of Code Sec. 954(d)(3)) with respect to the domestic corporation to which ownership was attributed.
  • Provide a carve-out for certain “triggering events” of an S corporation Code Sec. 965(i), such as where the S corporation and relevant shareholders maintain direct or indirect ownership of the transferred assets (e.g., tax-free transfers).
  • Provide guidance on the interaction between a Code Sec. 962 election and a Code Sec. 965(i) election, including clarifying that an eligible taxpayer may make a Code Sec. 962 election for a Code Sec. 965 tax liability for which they intend to defer inclusion under Code Sec. 965(i).

ABA Recommendations

Likewise, the ABA made similar recommendations on the proposed regulations and related guidance in an October 29 letter sent to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. The ABA’s 80-page letter grouped its principal recommendations into the three categories:

  • the application of Code Sec. 965 to passthrough entities (other than S corporations) and individuals;
  • the application of the netting of accumulated post-1986 deferred foreign income with deficits in other related entities; and
  • issues in applying the foreign tax credit.

Rettig Wants to Modernize IRS and Continue to Implement TCJA

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig gave his first speech since being confirmed as the 49th chief of the Service at the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) November 13 National Tax Conference in Washington, D.C. “You’re going to see things [I do] and go, ‘I can’t believe he did that,’” Rettig said.

Rettig, nominated by President Donald Trump last February and sworn in as IRS Commissioner on October 1, was a practicing tax attorney for over 30 years. “I’m not going to lose my tax edge,” he told CPAs and other tax professionals.

Modernizing the IRS

Rettig, since being confirmed, has maintained that a top priority of the IRS is updating the Service’s technology. “We must work on our IT modernization efforts,” Rettig said in a previous statement.

Additionally, Rettig discussed the IRS’s antiquated information technology (IT) systems and software at the AICPA event. “I can call Google…or All State and a recording…says, ‘you are 14th in line, we can call you back, you won’t lose your place in line,” Rettig said. “We don’t have those tools, we need those tools.”

However, Rettig emphasized that the IRS’s employees should have pride in their roles, and that many IRS challenges are a result of constrained financial resources. IRS employees are “people who care,”Rettig said. Further, Rettig said he wants the IRS to gain taxpayers’ respect.

Additionally, in line with the IRS’s increased efforts toward transparency, Rettig said that employee training materials for last year’s tax reform will soon be posted to the IRS’s website. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) (P.L. 115-97) was enacted last December. Rettig is tasked with overseeing the new tax law’s implementation.

Tax Reform

A copy of Rettig’s prepared remarks for the AICPA event was provided to Wolters Kluwer by the IRS on November 14. Notably, an IRS spokesperson told Wolters Kluwer that Rettig “did not stick to the script.” In an informal outline of areas on which Rettig intends to focus, “the top of the list is continuing to implement the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which contains the most sweeping tax changes in 30 years,”Rettig stated in the prepared remarks. “The IRS has already made great progress in this area, but more remains to be done.”

IRS Guidance

The IRS is committed to helping taxpayers and tax professionals understand the new tax law changes, as well as file returns next year timely and accurately, Rettig noted. To that end, the IRS will continue to issue guidance this year related to tax reform, according to Rettig. “You can expect additional guidance in the next several weeks in a number of areas,” he added, which include TCJA provisions related to the following:

  • Opportunity Zones;
  • the limitation on the business interest expense deduction; and
  • the Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT).

Additionally, the IRS will continue to update taxpayer forms and instructions related to new tax law provisions, Rettig noted. “We’re well on our way to having those completed in time for [the 2019] filing season.”