Charitable Organizations and Marijuana?

In Denial 201615018 (released April 8, 2016 and for which I can only find a Tax Notes link) the IRS denied the charitable organization application of a nonprofit organization organized “to provide a way for your members to collectively and cooperatively cultivate and distribute medical marijuana for medical purposes to qualified patients and primary caregivers who come together to collectively and cooperatively cultivate physician-recommended marijuana.” The IRS denied the organization’s applications on two bases: (1) a charitable organization cannot engage in illegal activities and the distribution of marijuana is illegal under federal law; and (2)  it provided too much private benefit. I will focus only on the first basis.

Ben Leff and I have previously debated the issue of marijuana distribution and tax exemption. Ben contended that under certain circumstances a social welfare organization under 501(c)(4) could form to distribute marijuana and operate in a tax-exempt vehicle. The reason to try to do this instead of operating in a taxable vehicle is that under section 280E federal tax law prohibits marijuana distributors from deducting trade or business expenses. While I disagreed with Ben, neither of us argued that a charitable organization could engage in the distribution of marijuana. Both of us, and Ben should absolutely chime in, believed that the public policy/illegality limitation on charitable organizations is absolutely clear on this front: engaging in an illegal activity as a substantial purpose just does not cut it under charitable tax rules. Continue reading “Charitable Organizations and Marijuana?”