New Big 4 Associate Wants to Know If His Career Will Go Up in Smoke After Pot Possession Arrest
Welcome to the bullshit-faux-holidays-that-accountants-don’t-get-off edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. Today we have a new Big 4 associate who’s wondering how much trouble he could get in for a recent arrest for pot possession. If his firm finds out will they just blow it off or is his career baked?
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I just started at a Big 4 firm and to celebrate the college life being over my friends had a party over Labor Day weekend. To cut to the point, I ended up being arrested and charged with marijuana possession in a city about 2 hours away from my office. I had a prior arrest for marijuana from 4 years prior as well. Basically, my question is, how likely is it that the firm finds out about this incident without me telling them? Also, if they do find out does this mean automatic termination?
Any advice would be appreciated.
Dear Stoney Jabroni,
Let me just say first that I’m not a lawyer, so take this advice for what it’s worth (not much more than a dime bag). Having said, that, your solution is easy. Move to Colorado. Or California. Or anywhere pot is decriminalized. Maybe I’m misinterpreting “arrested” but here in in the MHC, for example, adults don’t really get “arrested” for possession of less than one ounce and thus, there is really no problem. I realize this is probably unrealistic advice but your state’s laws will ultimately determine how “serious” this really is. Generally, this is not a serious issue but if you’re in state that likes to throw the book at marijuana users, then it gets more complicated.
To answer your first question – since you work in a city that’s two hours from where your arrest occurred, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone at your firm will find out you had your little run-in with the law. Unless, of course, there’s townie that would go out of their way to contact your firm to fink on you. That seems unlikely but, hey! you never know.
As far as termination is concerned, it depends on the agreement that you signed when you accepted your offer. If you’re held to specific code of conduct, it’s possible that this arrest could violate that code. If there’s nothing in the agreement that would cover something like this, your firm doesn’t really have grounds to dismiss you. There are plenty of Big 4 employees and partners that enjoy a nice toke every now and again and it is more socially accepted than ever. If someone at your firm does get a whiff of this news, certainly some will frown on this behavior and you may get a talking to but does it mean the end of your career? That’s just wack, man.
Can Convicted Felons Become CPAs?
As many of you are already aware, any sort of criminal record can negatively impact your career options if you’re considering public accounting. For one Going Concern reader, his sketchy past could mean the difference between becoming a CPA and spending his life as a payroll clerk.
Here’s the question:
Suppose I am an educated, convicted felon (possession of marijuana w/ intent to distribute when I was 19, currently 22) who is taking the CPA exam in the fall after graduation from college. I expect to pass (I’ve studied long and hard) and I have a few questions for you. Do you think accounting firms would be open to hiring a convicted felon, despite qualifications and a non-fiduciary felony? Also, would a state board (NH specifically) certify me as a CPA, provided I was able to get a job and fulfill the experience requirements? Do you have any precedents or similar situations you could inform me of?
Well, let’s start with the New Hampshire application for licensure, which contains the following simple question:
Have you ever been convicted of a felony that has not been annulled or committed any dishonest act?
If yes, please attach a separate sheet, which contains a complete description of the circumstances.
What this says to me is that you should start working on what you’re going to put on that separate sheet. You won’t get points for oversharing but you may get credit for honesty and clarity.
As you pointed out, it’s worth noting a few things. First, you were 19. We all do stupid things when we are 19. Granted, your stupid things got you a felony when it gets most 19 year olds regretful tattoos or embarrassing stories but still, you were a kid. That said, you’re still a kid to some employers/authority figures, so don’t get your hopes up expecting people to automatically assume you’ve reformed yourself in 3 years.
Second, it’s not like you robbed a gas station, stole credit card numbers or ripped off your Boy Scout troop – the fact that you were once in possession of a large quantity of marijuana isn’t much of a reflection on your character as it pertains to your ability to stick to the professional code. But (and this is the part that sucks), marijuana is still illegal and therefore the Board of Accountancy will consider that fact independent of what you were actually charged for. To some, the fact that you committed any crime at all means you are not of the ethical fortitude required to be a CPA. Let’s ignore the fact that many of the people who feel this way break the law all the time; talking on their cell phones behind the wheel, speeding, and driving while mildly intoxicated after happy hour.
The general rule here is that you should be fine as long as your conviction isn’t a fiduciary one but it’s up to the state to decide. Whatever you do, don’t try to hide it, as the important thing here is proving you are trustworthy. And you may want to talk to a lawyer about having your conviction expunged or knocked down to a misdemeanor. It probably doesn’t change much for you as far as jobs go (hope you aren’t planning on going Big 4, they won’t touch you with a conviction like that) but hey, you’ll be able to carry a gun (you know, for those dangerous engagements).
Prop 19 May Not Be Such a Great Way To Bring In California Tax Revenues After All
While California legislators may be licking their lips at the thought of taxing marijuana – should California voters go all in on Prop 19 next month – a new RAND Corporation paper points out that the revenue impact on Mexican gangs could make much less of a bang than assumed by Prop 19 proponents.
The reasoning behind 19 is simple: California prisons are already packed with all sorts of shady individuals and locking up small-time pot dealers with murderers, gang-bangers and child molesters really only creates a criminal factory that costs our already broke state way too much money. Eliminating a large chunk of the criminality surrounding pot frees up correctional resources to put rverts and killers. So far that makes sense.
Legalizing marijuana also gives our sneaky little legislators the chance to tax the shit out of a multi-billion dollar business; they have already done this in cities like Oakland where pot dispensaries are limited and closely watched by TPTB to assure they get their cut. Implement this state-wide and maybe we won’t be so desperate to get into selling our stuff off and mailing out IOUs instead of actual money.
Or were we totally high when we came up with revenue estimates that promise $1 billion in extra cash for the state?
The RAND paper argues that California accounts for 1/7th of marijuana consumption in the U.S., much of which is grown, cultivated and sold here in the state. That isn’t money that will be taken out of Mexican drug traffickers’ pockets if Prop 19 passes as we Californians are already weed snobs and don’t smoke the Mexican garbage. What we have is a large black market subsidized by semi-legal pot funneled through dispensaries. Some locales tax it while others don’t under current rules and it appears as though Prop 19 leaves the same door flapping wide open in the breeze. Not exactly the big tax boom we’d hoped for.
Opponents argue that legalization of marijuana will actually backfire as the free market price of an ounce could drop to $38; great if you’re the one buying but not so great if you’re the one trying to make money off of your crop and now forking over taxes to the state.
Is there anything in Prop 19 that would actually require growers and buyers to bypass the underground market they have known for so long and give their share of taxes to the state? Not as far as I can tell.
Think of it this way: if the state suddenly started taxing soda at 10 cents a can and you knew a guy in your neighborhood who happened to be sitting on a stockpile of Pepsi, why on Earth would you go to the store and pay the additional 10 cents a can when you could simply unload a case or two from your neighbor at a lower price? The difference being there’s already a black market for pot and introducing consistent tax issues into the matter is certainly not the way to legitimize said black market.
Governor Schwarzenegger has already signed a bill into law that makes possession of less than an ounce an infraction ($100 fine) while SFPD cops are already taught to ignore casual pot smoking on San Francisco streets (just like everything else they ignore including defecation and rampant dysfunctional drug use) so why 19?
I don’t have an answer for that. On the surface Prop 19 seems to be a no-brainer but like any other piece of California legislation, it’s all in the implementation and I don’t believe our state can pull off the tax revenue payday they are banking on should California voters vote yes on November 2nd.
Or maybe all the stoners will stay home and get high on Election Day instead, having already decided this is a bad idea and not at all what it seems to be at first glance.
Do Accounting Firms Care if You’re On Drugs?
Recent data suggests that Wall Street types are still doing drugs with unsurprisingly regularity but their tastes have changed with the seriousness of the times.
That is, they’ve traded in the hard-charging llelo fueled days of ’06 – ’07 with a more reserved and apathetic ganja attitude of ’09 – ’10. Trading coke for pot. Blow fo e all know that accountants follow/chase the money so we can safely assume that their proclivities for drug usage have followed suit.
However, you rarely hear about drug abuse problems at accounting firms. So where is all this drug use happening? Apparently, it’s going down at REITs:
The highest levels of abuse seem to be at real estate investment trust companies, a sector that, incidentally, does more random testing than others.
But the test results generally capture drug use among new hires, candidates who knew that they would likely be tested. Random drug testing is rare, according to a spokesman for a bulge-bracket bank who asked to remain unnamed.
Among existing employees, psychologists and counselors say that drug abuse has not slackened. Some even say it is peaking, exacerbated by the credit crisis and the volatile and tenuous recovery that has ensued.
As the article states, random drug testing is already rare but where it happens the least isn’t mentioned.
But like we said, you rarely hear about the drug use that goes on at accounting firms. Which makes us wonder if it’s because it’s not happening period. To our knowledge – accounting firms don’t give employees drug tests as a condition of employment and simply defer to clients who require them (a certain Swiss Bank with proximity to shroom burgers comes to mind).
We’re not suggesting that every Big 4 office is like Bernie Madoff’s north pole but there’s enough of it happening that there is a presence within the firms.
It’s no surprise. You Big 4 types (and anyone at a CPA firm for that matter) go through your personal hell on a seasonal (or maybe a constant) basis so there’s probably a direct correlation with your usage and the time of year. For example – that tax manager that manages to work night after night after night with amazing focus as the final 2010 deadlines draw near? You think they just plug themselves in when they finally go home to recharge for the next day?
Plus, as you’re acutely aware, it’s not just the illegal drugs that are popular, “[T]he rage these days is a Pez dispenser with the head of a red devil. Inside? Pills of Oxycodone or Percocet.” And don’t forget the people that have been popping Adderall since college so they can study for 12 straight hours. That has simply carried over into the 14-15 hour days for X amount of consecutive days during busy season.
And don’t get us started on people who get addicted to fast food (a drug in its own right) in order to save time and eat at their desks. The chemicals in the food from [pick your chain] are just as addictive as any drug off the street or from the pharmacy and cause just as much damage to our bodies.
But as you’ve no doubt heard over and over in the peanut gallery, getting your work done is ultimately what matters. Come hell or high water. Come dependancy, insane weight loss or insane weight gain. And lots of people do whatever it takes to cope with that reality.
So? What’s the scoop these days inside your firm? Are drug tests just a section of your offer letter that you agree to, only to be never reminded of it again? Anyone every been tested? We understand that no one is operating heavy machinery out there but bad things can still happen, quite possibly in the name of client service.
Just So You’re Aware: The IRS Won’t Allow You to Deduct Your Pot as a Medical Expense
Apparently there’s been a bit of unnecessary confusion out there about the deductibility of marijuana for medical purposes. The Wall St. Journal article that we linked to this morning discusses the problems employers are encountering wi e.g. can’t use HSA funds; they don’t care if you’ve got a card, if you test positive you’re fired).
But the question of deducting the cost of your White Widow et al. that you legally purchase in states like California and Colorado has been making the rounds. After a little discussion, it’s pretty clear that the IRS is not going allow you deduct your pot for tax purposes simply because it’s still illegal at the Federal level. Doctor’s note be damned.
The confusion arose due to the following letter that was sent to New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who had sent a letter to the IRS inquiring about a constituent using a “herb” to treat migraine headaches:
Talk about a vague response from the IRS. Tax Girl explains:
As with many facets of how to treat medical marijuana for tax and other purposes, it appears that those in charge are merely tiptoeing around the question. In the letter, the term “marijuana” is never used explicitly – the term used is “herb”. While it’s my understanding that the specifics of the case involved medical marijuana used for the treatment of migraines, that isn’t specifically stated in the sanitized version of the letter. No use of “marijuana”, just the term “herb.” That could be St. Johns Wort or milk thistle as far as the IRS is concerned.
Fortunately TaxProf Paul Caron clears up for us in a couple of updates from his latest post on this issue:
Update #2: Rev. Rul. 97-9, 1997-1 CB 77, specifically precludes a medical expense deduction for medical marijuana:
An amount paid to obtain a controlled substance (such as marijuana) for medical purposes, in violation of federal law, is not a deductible expense for medical care under § 213. This holding applies even if the state law requires a prescription of a physician to obtain and use the controlled substance and the taxpayer obtains a prescription.
So the IRS in Info. 2010-0080 either was (1) signalling a retreat from its position in Rev. Rul. 97-9 by not mentioning the federal legality of the substance; (2) implicitly referring only to legal herbs (and hence not covering marijuana).
Update #3: I am told by an enterprising reporter that the herb in question in Info. 2010-0080 is Petadolex, so it appears that interpretation #2 above controls and the conclusion in Rev. Rul. 97-9 denying a medical expense deduction for medicial marijuana still obtains.
So there you have it. Regardless if you have glaucoma, cancer, HIV, chronic pain, high anxiety or any ailment that marijuana can effectively alleviate, don’t bother trying to include it on Schedule A. We’d ask the IRS to implore a little common sense here but legally, as long as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level that’s not going to happen. And from a more practical standpoint, we’re still talking about the IRS.
Don’t Bogart That Deduction: Is Medical Marijuana a Medical Expense? [TaxProf Blog]
Just Say No: Pot Not Allowed as Medical Expense [Tax Girl]
The Latest Solution to Your State’s Fiscal Troubles
CNN, who sometimes puts out pure and utter crap, has issued a 50-state ranking of potential tax revenues that could be earned if marijuana was legalized and taxed.
The ranking is based on “state-by-state marijuana consumption, from Jeffrey Miron (Harvard University, Department of Economics), Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,” according to Paul Caron at TaxProf Blog. The total tax revenue projected by the study is $778 million.
Shockingly, California would benefit the most (especially since they won’t get additional money from Ahnuld), earning an estimated $105 million. A couple of notable states in the top twenty include Colorado and Oregon who both jumped considerably on the list as compared to where they rank in population. In other words, ganja use per capita is higher there (yes, that’s an intentional pun).
What the study fails to incorporate is the increase in sales tax revenues that would result from the surge in junk food and movie ticket sales. Despite this omission, the study demonstrates that all states would earn money that they would otherwise gone to some weird dude that only has black lights in his apartment.
Since this partial solution makes entirely too much sense, we expect the majority of states to continue to cut education and public service jobs to meet their budget goals.
Projected Revenues From Marijuana Tax [TaxProf Blog]