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State to dispensaries: Pay your taxes

OLYMPIA – The state Revenue Department is stepping up efforts to make medical marijuana dispensaries pay their taxes.

After more than two years of “educational outreach” designed teach medical marijuana businesses that they must register with the state and pay taxes, the department says in a memo this week it will go after dispensaries that continue to ignore the law.

Dispensaries owe business and occupation taxes on their gross receipts. They must also collect sales tax on marijuana and “medibles” – the edible products containing the drug – and send it in. . .

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. . . Since late 2011, the department has been telling dispensaries they must collect the sales tax because the exemption for prescription drugs doesn’t apply to marijuana. In January, it sent letters to hundreds of dispensaries explaining they must register and pay taxes.

In a recent memo, Drew Shirk, the assistant director for legislation and policy, said the state contacted 323 medical marijuana businesses earlier this year it believed were unregistered. About a fourth said they were registered under another name, and 4 percent filed new registrations.

But 60 percent didn’t respond and nearly one in 10 said medical marijuana wasn’t taxable.

Wrong on that last count, Shirk says in the memo. A recent state Appeals Court decision says collective gardens, which provide the marijuana for many dispensaries, aren’t legal under state law. But that doesn’t mean the dispensaries get out of taxes or registering as a business.

“Whether legal or not, the sale of medical marijuana is a taxable activity, absent an applicable exemption,” Shirk said.

The state has 286 registered medical marijuana businesses, and about 100 aren’t reporting any income, the memo says. The department plans to contact them with information on how to report taxes and give them 30 days to correct any errors. After that it will follow up, issue estimated tax assessments “as appropriate” and start a collection process on any delinquent accounts.

That’s how any registered business is handled, the memo says.

It will also begin enforcement efforts with unregistered businesses, starting with education and using “tax discovery procedures” if needed. 

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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