In a move that Old Guard California Cannabis viewed with bittersweet appreciation, the Department of Cannabis Control on January 1, 2022 announced it would waive license fees for those cannabis companies impacted by the War on Cannabis. Many pre-2017 operators experienced persecution by law enforcement including confiscation of inventory. For those who refused to admit defeat and remained in or returned to the business of cannabis, this significant fee waiver feels something like an apology.
As we move through Year 2 of the Equity Fee Waiver, it’s important for all cannabis companies to review their history and their current operations to see if they qualify for this significant reduction in expense. Instead of arrest or conviction, a cannabis business may also qualify through its eligible owner’s income level or location of residence. Since this is a fee waiver for small businesses, a maximum yearly revenue level of $5 million is also a requirement.
For those Qualified Equity Licensees who have already received a fee waiver, it’s important to remember that this is a yearly process, and that they must continue to submit a request for equity fee relief at least 60 calendar days before the annual expiration date of their license.
Who Qualifies for the Equity Fee Waiver?
Gross Revenue: Your cannabis business must have no more than $5 Million gross revenue per year.
Equity Ownership: At least 50% of your business must be owned by people who have only ONE of these three characteristics:
- Have experienced a cannabis conviction or arrest, or
- Have a lower income level, or
- Reside in a neighborhood affected by the criminalization of cannabis (as defined by the DCC)
Arrest or Conviction
The DCC requires that the equity individual have been convicted or arrested for cannabis crimes before November 8, 2016. Crimes must have been sale, possession, use, manufacture or cultivation. The equity individual may also be eligible if an immediate family member was convicted or arrested for cannabis crimes and the equity individual themselves lived in a California county with drug arrest rates that were higher than the state average drug arrest rates.
Lower Income Level
In order to qualify under income level, the equity individual must have household income no more than 60% of the area’s median income (see DCC charts showing county, number of people in household, and eligible income levels) or prove eligibility for financial aid like CalFresh or Medi-Cal or Supplemental Security Income.
Residence in a Neighborhood Affected by Criminalization of Cannabis
If an equity individual seeks to qualify by location of residence, they must have lived in the qualified location for at least 5 years between 1980 and 2016. The location must have higher than state average drug arrests and be in the top 25% nationally for unemployment and poverty. The DCC provides an interactive map to check your location for these requirements.
Worth the Trouble
Again, your business needs to be below $5 million annual gross revenue, and at least 50% of the ownership needs to have only 1 of 3 disadvantaged characteristics: cannabis arrest or conviction, or lower income level, or residence in an affected neighborhood.
While it will definitely take time to apply for the Equity Fee Waiver, the savings in zeroed-out license fees can certainly make it worthwhile. In addition, qualifying for the Equity Fee Waiver makes a business eligible for other state equity tax advantages including the California Equity Tax Credit. (See our article on the CETC here.)
The state’s application for the Equity Fee Waiver is available online, and more info is available as well.