Accounting and Taxes

Executive Compensation and Changes to Tax Regulations Impacting the Cannabis Industry

The topic of executive compensation, especially within the burgeoning cannabis industry, has garnered significant attention from both the media and regulatory bodies. The intricacies of such compensation structures are under the microscope more than ever, particularly with the evolving landscape of cannabis legalization and the financial implications thereof. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) now requires detailed disclosures in proxy statements, while legislative changes have been introducing new tax implications for how companies can deduct executive compensation.

Historically, public and transitioning companies in the cannabis sector have gravitated towards performance-based compensation models, including equity awards, as a key facet of their executive remuneration packages. This shift towards equity-based compensation has been partly in response to both the spotlight on salary sizes and the original provisions of Section 162(m), which allowed such performance-based compensations to be deductible.

However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 marked a pivotal shift, eliminating the performance-based exemption under Section 162(m). Consequently, public companies are now facing a limitation on the tax deductibility of executive compensation to a million dollars per covered executive. The legislature has not only removed the performance-based deduction possibilities but also broadened the spectrum of who counts as a covered executive, thereby expanding the scope and impact of these limitations.

Navigating equity compensation in this new tax terrain is notably complex due to the fluctuating value of equity awards from their grant date to actual vesting or exercise. This variability necessitates a nuanced approach to accounting and tax planning, more so within the cannabis industry, which deals with an additional layer of legal and financial uncertainties. For tax purposes, the deductibility of an award hinges on its value at the time of vesting or exercise, rather than the initial grant date value, leading to scenarios where actual tax savings may surpass initial estimates, providing what’s termed as an “excess tax benefit”.

With the TCJA’s adjustments to Section 162(m), cannabis companies might find themselves dealing with an increased tax burden due to a reduced ability to deduct executive compensation, particularly concerning equity awards. This reduction or elimination of tax deductions, in conjunction with the already intricate nature of equity compensation accounting, underscores the need for careful planning and robust financial strategies within the cannabis industry.

As the cannabis sector continues to mature and faces potential further legislative and regulatory changes, including possible expansions of the scope of Section 162(m), the way in which companies approach executive compensation and the associated tax implications will undoubtedly evolve. The intersection of Section 162(m) changes with ASC Topic 718 significantly influences financial reporting and effective tax rates, challenging cannabis companies to adapt to these intricacies to maintain financial health and compliance.

This evolving landscape underscores the necessity for cannabis companies to stay abreast of regulatory changes, re-evaluate their compensation strategies, and ensure that their financial planning is robust and adaptive. As legislative dynamics shift and the cannabis sector continues to grow, understanding and responding to these tax regulation changes is crucial for sustaining business operations and strategic growth.


As the cannabis industry navigates the complexities of executive compensation in the context of changing tax legislation, it is imperative that businesses understand the implications of these changes and adjust their strategies accordingly. The interplay between accounting practices and tax regulations presents unique challenges and opportunities for the sector, emphasizing the importance of strategic financial management and foresight.

In summary, while the cannabis industry faces unique regulatory and business challenges, the principles governing executive compensation and tax implications remain critically relevant. The adaptation of strategies to align with these changes is vital for the continued growth and legal compliance of businesses within this dynamic sector.

Editorial Staff

The CannaBizCentral Editorial Team is dedicated to providing a professional, unbiased source for legal cannabis business resource news. With over a decade of experience reporting on the latest cannabis news, we’re committed to meeting the high demand for honest, up-to-date information from the nation’s fastest-growing industry - legal cannabis.