Paula Collins, Author at Green Market Report

Paula CollinsPaula CollinsSeptember 19, 2017
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5min16090

You’ve experimented with watering, lights, nutrients, soil, and harvesting techniques. Your small, dedicated team has come together like a family, nurturing the development of your product like it is the king baby. You’re finally starting to realize a profit. Suddenly, a key employee hits you with notice of resignation. She has decided to go work for a cannabis producer that is closer to where she lives, and who, coincidentally, is willing to pay her $2 an hour more than you can afford and promise her four nights off a week.

As you begin to snap back from the shock of your close-knit team getting torn apart, you realize: that key employee is about to walk out with a goldmine of experience and training that you gave her. She has intimate knowledge of dozens of processes that are unique to your product line. Suppose she takes all of those thousands of dollars of training you invested in her, and she applies that to the competitor’s benefit?

That’s when you remember: you are covered in most states by local trade secrets statutes, and for the aspects of your business that are non-cannabis related, you have federal protection as of May 2016 with the Defense of Trade Secrets Act (DTSA). Through DTSA and the state-level statutes, a trade secret is anything that you consider to be a secret, and from which you derive profit. In other words – if you say an idea, a design, a process, a marketing plan, a billing process – almost anything — is a secret, and you make money from it, it is protected under trade secrets law!

Trade secrets are exposed at any time in the life cycle of your business, but critical hotspots occur when you tour your facilities with eager potential investors, when you discuss possible mergers and acquisitions with lateral partners, or when a key employee moves to work for a competitor. Cannabis business owners, especially those who are developing and producing products, can take three action steps to protect their trade secrets, but they must be done pre-emptively – long before you see trouble brewing.

 

  • Make clear to all who gain exposure to your business what you consider confidential. You don’t want to proudly display your timers, lights, and watering systems, lest someone spot them and try to duplicate them in their own production lab. Don’t assume that all who smile and shake your hand will play as good sports.
  • Err on the side of caution when you talk to investors. Early in discussions – even before they visit your retail or production operation, have them sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA). It won’t stop them from blabbing to their posse, but it will protect you if the matter gets turned over to the lawyers!
  • Once you have decided that something is considered by you to be a secret and you derive income from it, make sure you take regular efforts to keep it under wraps. If it is an oil extraction process, make sure that the area is kept locked, with limited access, and clear records of the comings and goings of all who gain access.
  • Make sure you have an employee manual that is written down. Outline the physical areas of your operation, and the concepts, ideas, and methods, that you consider to be unique to your operation. Have employees sign that they have read it and consent to it.
  • Some states, such as Colorado, permit non-compete agreements. Non-competes generally do not hold up in court in other states, such as New York.

 

Don’t let the unique features of your business waft into thin air when your key employees leave, or when your potential business suitor takes what he can use from your business and leaves the rest. Identify features of your cannabis operation that are unique, take steps to keep them secret, and make sure that people know what you value as a trade secret.

 

 


Paula CollinsPaula CollinsSeptember 5, 2017
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7min15390

Soon after your opening launch celebrations, you face the grim realities of your first tax return as a Cannabis business owner. (Cue Death Star music.)

Section 280E of the tax code states that “No deduction or credit shall be allowed” for businesses that are prohibited by Federal law. Section 280E explicitly mentions businesses that deal in “trafficking” substances that fall under Schedule I and Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act.

This is potentially devastating for cannabis businesses, and raises the effective tax rate of a retail or production business to 70%, up from what should be in the neighborhood of 30%. That’s based on a business with $1,000,000 gross receipts, cost of goods sold (COGS) of $650,000, with as much as $200,000 in allowable deductions for a non-cannabis business and $0 allowable deduction for the cannabis business. In that scenario, the non-cannabis business will pay tax on $150,000 of income after deductions, while the cannabis business will pay tax on $350,000 of income after deductions, despite the fact that their COGS were the same, dollar-for-dollar.

Four Easy Ways to Save 40% on Your Tax Bill Every Quarter

  1. Establish a second business for every operation that is not directly related to your cannabis inventory. Name it and claim it. Have one business that is just the cannabis business. If you are a retail cannabis business, the only activity in that business will be the buying and selling of your product. If you are a production business (grower or producer), keep at least one other item in your line that is not cannabis related so that you can handle the tax consequences of §280E. Keep inventory lists separate, according to the differentiated revenue streams. In a retail operation, branded items, other health or wellness products, accessories, and accoutrements — these can be inventoried and their associated costs can be deductible. For example, if you have a dispensary, but you also sell glassware or cleaning products, keep those in a separate business. Voila! You now have deductions that you can claim! Most of your rent, utilities, and marketing of anything not expressly cannabis – entirely legal deductions.
  2. Document each and every item separately. Many cannabis businesses make the mistake of thinking, “What’s the use of keeping books if I can’t claim deductions?” Big mistake! If you receive goods from a supplier, make sure you have them ship the cannabis products separate from any other goods you may acquire from them. Doing so will create a fool-proof way to trace expenses that are solely related to cannabis, and help your other deductions survive the scrutiny of an audit.
  3. Micro-manage the tasks that your staff performs while on the clock. If you are a producer, your employee spends a great deal of time with tasks such as checking timers on lights, running water lines, locking and unlocking cabinets, running spreadsheets, cleaning work tables. If, out of one hour, that employee spends 45 minutes with hands off of the cannabis products and you can document it, you have just found a way to claim 45 minutes of that employee’s time on your taxes. Document these tasks, minute-by-minute. Score! You’ve just made the majority of your employees’ wages deductible. Now take it one step further and cut checks from two separate businesses each pay period for your employees. They will still be making the same hourly wage, but it will come from two separate business entities.
  4. Pay yourself a bigger salary in your non-cannabis business than in your cannabis business. You ARE paying yourself, through your business, right? Being in business is a big time commitment; avoid burnout and personal detriment by paying yourself a sustainable salary. As CEO, Manager, Founder, or whatever your title might be, cut yourself a bigger check from the non-cannabis business than you do from the cannabis business. Go ahead. Be aggressive with this. If you have structured the two businesses so that the cannabis-inventory-based business is only 10-20% of the total enterprise activity, you can get away with paying yourself 80-90% of your salary from the non-cannabis business, and the remaining 10-20% of your salary from the cannabis business.


About Us

The Green Market Report focuses on the financial news of the rapidly growing cannabis industry. Our target approach filters out the daily noise and does a deep dive into the financial, business and economic side of the cannabis industry. Our team is cultivating the industry’s critical news into one source and providing open source insights and data analysis


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