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CPA Firms Going to Pot: Is There an Opportunity in the Retail Marijuana Industry?

Here's a discussion item that recently appeared in our inbox we're just going to throw out there:

I haven't seen any articles on this site for accounting/tax prep for the marijuana industry?

As a CPA I am always looking for clients but I don't want to have my license revoked or end up in prison on RICO charges (for being a bookkeeper in an illegal operation). There are tons of businesses in Colorado (more MMJ shops then Starbucks) so huge potential.

You haven't seen any articles on this site on the matter because we aren't aware of any of you breaking into the pot business.

But let's take a step back for a moment and address the ridiculous leap you made in your question. It is highly unlikely that you, as a professional, will end up in prison over advising a legal business on business matters. I just have to get that out of the way.

NOW, as we all know, marijuana may be legal in Colorado but it's still illegal in the eyes of the feds. Here's where it gets tricky. And here's where it would be handy to pull up this Issue Brief on State Marijuana Laws and the CPA Profession, which is a fascinating read if you're into this stuff. It was a joint effort prepared by the AICPA with input from the Colorado and Washington state societies (because their CPAs need to know what's up with all this):

CPAs who are considering providing services to a marijuana-related business need to consider whether their State Board of Accountancy may consider such activity as grounds to refuse to grant or renew a license based on the failure to satisfy the good moral character requirement or as grounds for disciplinary action. It is possible that, if a CPA from a state that allows marijuana use who has provided services to a “marijuana business” seeks a reciprocal license in a state where marijuana is illegal, he or she could face licensing difficulties. It’s not yet clear how State Boards of Accountancy will apply “good moral character” requirements or impose discipline when it comes to supporting marijuana-related businesses, or if they will take a position at all. Many State Boards do not define what “good moral character” means — only that a CPA has to have to have it in order to become licensed in that particular state. License applications typically require character/reference letters from individuals attesting to the applicant’s “good moral character." In addition, whether a State Board would consider it to be an act discreditable when a CPA provides services to businesses that violate federal drug laws, even in a state that allows those businesses to operate legally, is a matter that deserves the attention of CPAs who are contemplating providing services to marijuana-related businesses.

I especially appreciated the bit about good moral character… basically, no one knows what that is but you better have it if you want to be a CPA. OK, got it.

So, the short is… who the hell knows. But it's unlikely, as mentioned above, that you'll end up in prison for doing what you do as a CPA for a legal business. Maybe.

Now, go ahead and hash this out in the comments (no pun intended).