It is easy to burn through money when starting a business. Expenses like market research and professional fees can kick in almost immediately, and capital expenditures like inventory, property and tools are unavoidable beyond the early stage. In addition to these traditional start-up costs, the state-legal cannabis industry brings regulatory add-ons, like licensing and permit fees, and, in some jurisdictions, requirements for plans by architects and engineers. Like any business, starting a pot business can be expensive. Only more.
In our Washington, Oregon and California offices, our cannabis business lawyers speak daily with entrepreneurs in the early stages of cannabis business planning. Given the recent advent of state-legal marijuana, even our most “seasoned” industry clients and those with industry cachet have operated above board for only a couple of years. Because the regulated cannabis industry is a start-up industry, everyone needs to monitor costs closely. Those costs include professional fees.
At the onset of business planning, it is tempting to engage a range of professionals to handle any foreseeable matter. Like any industry, the cannabis industry has its experts: lawyers, accountants, realtors, vendors and any variety of “consultants.” Many of these individuals can be helpful along the way, if used correctly. The key is knowing when, whether and how to engage each provider in the life cycle of your cannabis business.
Lawyer. Potential clients are surprised when we sometimes send them away. In Oregon, for example, licenses are tied to locations, and unless there is an urgent need for legal services (i.e., the business is being capitalized), we often suggest that would-be clients return after they have sourced a target property. At that point, we can hone in on zoning issues as well as the lease or sale transaction, while structuring the business to boot. Otherwise, with no location in mind, there is a tendency to run up fees unnecessarily, and before the point where a lawyer is truly required.
Accountant. In the cannabis industry, it is critical to have an accountant (as well as a lawyer) who understands the quagmire of IRC 280E. An accountant versed in the cannabis industry will be able to assess the pros and cons of various tax elections in the context of a tax code tilted against pot businesses, and offer ongoing planning advice. Like cannabis business law, cannabis accounting is highly specialized, but the right CPA can make all the difference.
Realtor. Many aspiring pot businesses attempt to find a realtor. Unlike lawyers or accountants, realtors generally do not work for an hourly fee; they typically get paid when a deal closes. In the marijuana industry, realtors are not enthusiastic about pounding the pavement for smaller placements, like a dispensary lease. The commission simply isn’t there. But, if you are looking at a larger transaction—and specifically to buy a building or a piece of property—a good realtor can be a real asset.
Vendors. Most cannabis businesses enlist a couple vendors at the onset of operations. The two most commonly retained vendors are insurance providers and security operators. Regarding insurance, cannabis businesses need the same products as other small businesses. This tends to include property insurance and workers’ compensation, in a highly specialized field. As to security, the cannabis industry is unfortunately still a cash game for the most part. Not only are security providers required for property set up and installation, but they are often hired to transport cash during business operations.
Consultants. There are innumerable cannabis consulting firms nationwide, but many of them do not add value. For this reason, we have cautioned (on more than one occasion) to be wary of expensive consultants, particularly at the outset of business operations. Most of what a consultant can provide can also be obtained for free, from other industry sources. Anything worth paying for can almost always be got somewhere else.