Americans could learn from Canada, as the New York Times explains in When Cannabis Goes Corporate. Canada’s free-for-all approach prompted complaints from police and local governments, so Canada adopted a regulated system for growth and sales. Enter Tweed Marijuana, one of the companies licensed to grow medical marijuana in Canada.
The new rules allow prescription holders to buy from approved, large-scale, producers. More informal growing operations suffer. But the changes have spawned an industry of more legitimate producers with bigger business models. And that should mean more sales.
Canada expects to collect taxes on over 3.1 billion in annual sales. The figures stateside could be vastly better. In Washington State, where even recreational marijuana is now legal, the Liquor Control Board hired Prof. Mark Kleiman of UCLA to research the state’s marijuana market. He estimated Washington’s medical and illicit consumption generated approximately $1.2 billion in sales annually.
Colorado too voted to legalize marijuana even for recreational use. Already, Colorado gets $2 million from marijuana taxes. And while there are rules in Colorado and Washington, both states seem well on their way to regulating and profiting from the industry. Medical use is far more prevalent, now numbering 20 legal medical marijuana states and D.C.
Yet in the Feds’ view, regardless of state legality, marijuana is a controlled substance and illegal under federal law. As more states have clashed with federal law, this mismatch has become more contentious. The Department of Justice issued a response suggesting that it will lay off the raids and prosecutions.
But the feds will lay off only if the states create “a tightly regulated market” with rules that address federal “enforcement priorities” such as preventing interstate smuggling, diversion to minors, and “adverse public health consequences.” Those phrases seem imbued with discretion. This memo to U.S. attorneys makes clear that the DOJ can still prosecute growers and sellers.
To be sure, this is much bigger than a tax problem. And yet the tax problems of the industry are huge and are thought to be one of the industry’s major impediments. Section 280E of the tax code denies even legal dispensaries tax deductions. The main culprit is Congress, not the IRS. The IRS has said it has no choice but to enforce the tax code passed by Congress.