Understanding 280E & Cannabis Rescheduling

For entrepreneurs in the burgeoning cannabis industry, financial hurdles abound, and among the most formidable challenges are banking relationships and the infamous IRS Tax Code 280E. In a historic move on August 30, 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended the rescheduling of cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III Controlled Substance. Our team explains why this matters, how cannabis rescheduling will assist operators in running profitable businesses, and what it has to do with 280E.

Enacted in 1982 during a period of heightened drug hysteria and increased incarceration rates, IRS Tax Code 280E was a response to a court case where a convicted cocaine trafficker sought to deduct ordinary business expenses. The code prohibits deductions or credits for businesses engaged in the trafficking of controlled substances, including cannabis, classified federally as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Other scheduled I drugs include heroin, ecstasy, LSD, and peyotes.

IRS Code 280E was initially designed to prevent drug dealers from claiming tax deductions for their business expenses. Unfortunately, it extends its reach to include state-legal cannabis businesses, reducing allowable deductions and increasing taxable income. This, in turn, forces marijuana companies to face higher federal tax rates ranging from 40% to 80% higher, compared to the standard 21% corporate tax.


Alice (Cannabis Operator)

Carol (Non-Cannabis Operator)




Cost of Production



Operation Expenses



Taxable Income



Federal Taxes Due



280E affects businesses cultivating, processing, and dispensing cannabis. Vertically integrated operations—those involved in every stage of the cannabis lifecycle—are also subject to its constraints.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has concluded its review of the rescheduling of cannabis, forwarding a recommendation to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This nonbinding recommendation, which follows President Biden's October request to review marijuana scheduling, places the final decision in the hands of the DEA.

The potential shift to Schedule III, where drugs are considered less addictive and harmful, would remove cannabis operators from the 280E tax code. Rescheduling would also open new avenues for research and medical uses, result in lighter criminal penalties for cannabis-related violations of the CSA, and would likely attract more investors, researchers, and entrepreneurs into the cannabis space.

It remains to be seen whether it would also attract more financial institutions and other service providers to the industry. If nothing else, rescheduling could also go a long way toward changing public perceptions about cannabis's safety and medical potential, which, in turn, may help reduce stigma and increase acceptance among those who remain skeptical about its medical use.

In conclusion, the recent recommendation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III marks a historic turning point for the cannabis industry. This significant move has the potential to alleviate one of the industry's most challenging financial hurdles—IRS Tax Code 280E. As this recommendation now rests with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the prospect of lighter criminal penalties, increased research opportunities, and a more favorable financial landscape for cannabis businesses looms on the horizon. The evolving regulatory landscape promises a positive impact on taxation. It opens doors for further research and investment, potentially reshaping public perceptions about cannabis. The cannabis industry stands at the cusp of transformative change, and as the DEA deliberates on the rescheduling decision, operators and stakeholders remain cautiously optimistic about the potential positive shifts in the industry's future.

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