Missourians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2018. But under federal law, growing, transporting or selling marijuana remains a crime.
Unsurprisingly, that dynamic has created a lot of headaches for the fledgling industry.
One notable example: Unlike every other legal business in the state, marijuana companies are prohibited from deducting business expenses on their taxes.
“Can you imagine as a small business owner if you were not able to deduct common business expenses on your tax returns?” Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said during a Senate hearing earlier this year. “If you couldn’t deduct these expenses, it would increase your taxes significantly.”
Missouri lawmakers took a step toward easing some of that burden during the recently concluded legislative session. While federal law remains unchanged, a bill allowing medical marijuana companies to deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses on their state tax returns won near unanimous approval and was sent to the governor.
The bill now awaits Gov. Mike Parson’s signature or veto.
For federal income tax purposes, a section of the tax code prohibits deductions for expenses incurred while operating “any trade or business … that consists of trafficking controlled substances.”
Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, and the IRS uses that provision to disallow cannabis businesses from deducting business expenses.
The bill approved by lawmakers simply allows medical marijuana businesses authorized under the Missouri Constitution to claim an income tax deduction in an amount equal to any expenditures otherwise allowable as a federal income tax deduction.
By making this change, lawmakers “put medical cannabis businesses on a level playing field with all other small businesses across the state when it comes to taxes,” said Andrew Mullins, executive director of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association.
David Smith, a certified public accountant from St. Louis County who works with numerous medical marijuana companies, said existing law could mean an effective tax rate for those businesses of 70 percent or higher.
“Some companies may even be subject to income taxes while operating at a loss,” Smith told lawmakers.
That’s because without the deductions, the companies are paying taxes on gross profit instead of gross income, Nicholas Rinella, CEO of Hippos Cannabis, told a Senate hearing earlier this year.
“Expenses might outweigh your income, especially as you’re starting out,” he said.
That level of taxation “limits the industry’s ability to serve patients, supply jobs and reinvest in the communities we serve,” Rinella said. “We’re not looking for special treatment, we just want to be treated like any other legal business.”
This story was republished with permission from the Missouri Independent, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and policy.