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Knowledge & Insights

Cannabis R&D Tax Credits: Your Guide to Max Benefits


In this article and video, we discuss the details on Research and Development Tax Credits for the cannabis industry, and how these tax credits affect cannabis businesses.

The cannabis industry has experienced significant growth and innovation in recent years. As more states legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use, businesses in this industry are faced with unique challenges and opportunities. One area that cannabis businesses can take advantage of is Research and Development (R&D) tax credits. In this article, we will explore the tax benefits of R&D tax credits specifically tailored for the cannabis industry and discuss how businesses can maximize these credits to their advantage.

Understanding R&D Tax Credits for the Cannabis Industry

R&D tax credits were initially introduced in 1981 with the aim of incentivizing companies to invest in U.S. innovation. The credits were designed to reward companies for conducting research and development activities that contribute to technological advancements. While R&D tax credits are not limited to any specific industry, the cannabis industry can particularly benefit from these credits.

One of the key aspects to understand about R&D tax credits is that they are not restricted to groundbreaking innovations or new inventions. The research and development activities can be focused on improving existing products, processes, techniques, formulas, inventions, or software items. This means that even incremental improvements or process enhancements can qualify for R&D tax credits.

Benefits and Opportunities of R&D Tax Credits for Cannabis Businesses

The benefits of R&D tax credits for cannabis businesses are significant. By taking advantage of these tax credits, businesses can receive immediate cash benefits. In states like California, businesses can receive 13 cents back for every dollar spent on qualified research. At the federal level, businesses can also receive a 6.5 percent tax credit. These tax credits can directly reduce the tax burden for businesses, resulting in substantial savings.

It’s important to note that R&D tax credits are available for open tax years, meaning that businesses can go back and claim these credits for prior years if they haven’t done so previously. For federal taxes, businesses can go back three years, while for California taxes, businesses can go back four years. This provides businesses with an opportunity to recoup previously unclaimed credits.

Furthermore, businesses can carry forward any unused R&D tax credits. This is particularly beneficial for startups or businesses with no taxable income. The federal carry-forward period is 20 years, while in California, businesses can carry forward these credits indefinitely. This allows businesses to offset future tax liabilities when they start generating revenue.

Qualifying for R&D Tax Credits in the Cannabis Industry

To qualify for R&D tax credits in the cannabis industry, businesses must meet a four-part test. The first part is having a permitted purpose, which means that the research and development activities should be focused on improving or creating new products, processes, techniques, formulas, inventions, or software items.

The second part is that the research and development activities must be technological in nature. This means that they should rely on hard sciences such as engineering, chemistry, physical sciences, mathematics, physics, biology, or computer science. Social sciences like arts or humanities do not qualify.

The third part is the elimination of uncertainty. Businesses must undertake activities to discover information related to uncertainties regarding the capability or method of developing or improving a product or process. This includes addressing questions such as whether it is possible to develop the business component, what is the optimal design, and how to achieve desired results.

The fourth part is the process of experimentation. Businesses must test one or more ideas or concepts to overcome the uncertainties identified in the third part. This involves setting goals, brainstorming, creating development plans, prototyping, testing, analyzing data, making conclusions, and modifying the process until the uncertainty is relieved.

Qualified Research Expenses in the Cannabis Industry

Qualified research expenses (QREs) are the costs associated with the research and development activities that qualify for R&D tax credits. There are three categories of QREs: salaries and wages, supplies, and third-party vendor costs.

Salaries and wages include the taxable wages of employees who are directly involved in qualified research activities. If an employee spends at least 50 percent of their time on qualified research, 50 percent of their taxable wages can be considered QREs. The substantially all rule applies when an employee spends at least 80 percent of their time on qualified research, allowing for a higher percentage of their wages to be considered QREs.

Supplies refer to non-capitalized expenditures on consumables and raw materials used during qualified research activities. These expenses qualify if they are incurred while addressing uncertainty in the research and development process.

Third-party vendor costs are expenses paid to external parties who perform qualified research on behalf of the business. These costs can be claimed as QREs, provided that the research is conducted in the same state as the tax return is filed.

Documenting R&D Activities and Claiming Tax Credits

To claim R&D tax credits, businesses need to document their research and development activities adequately. The IRS requires supporting documentation to establish a connection between qualified employees, projects, and costs. This documentation can include project plans, test results, design review meeting minutes, emails, calendars, and other relevant records.

There are different methodologies for documenting R&D activities, depending on the materiality of the credit. Time allocation studies, which involve tracking the time employees spend on qualified research, are commonly used. These studies provide a breakdown of the percentage of time each employee dedicates to qualified research, supporting the calculation of QREs.

It’s crucial for businesses to capture and retain all necessary documentation, even if they are startups without taxable income. This documentation will be invaluable when businesses start generating revenue and can carry forward unused tax credits. Implementing a project accounting system or keeping detailed journals can help streamline the documentation process and ensure compliance with IRS requirements.

Engaging with R&D Tax Credit Specialists

Navigating the complexities of R&D tax credits can be challenging, especially for businesses in the cannabis industry. Engaging with R&D tax credit specialists, such as GreenGrowth CPAs, can provide businesses with the expertise and guidance needed to maximize their tax benefits.

R&D tax credit specialists can help businesses identify qualifying activities, quantify costs, review documentation, and perform the necessary calculations. They can also assist with amending and filing tax returns for prior years to claim unclaimed credits. Additionally, specialists can help businesses build and implement processes to ensure ongoing eligibility and documentation for future tax credits.


R&D tax credits present a valuable opportunity for cannabis businesses to reduce their tax liabilities and generate immediate cash benefits. By understanding the criteria for qualifying research and development activities, documenting expenses, and engaging with R&D tax credit specialists, businesses can maximize their tax benefits and contribute to the growth and innovation of the cannabis industry.

If you are a cannabis business owner looking to explore the potential of R&D tax credits, consider reaching out to GreenGrowth CPAs. Our team of experts can guide you through the process, help you identify qualifying activities, and ensure that you receive the maximum tax benefits available to your business. Take advantage of these tax credits and invest in the future of your cannabis business.

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