insight magazine

GEN NEXT: Grappling With Ganja

Accounting and finance professionals must wrestle with the opportunities of a growing national cannabis industry if they want to come out on top. By TAYLOR SCHUCK | Spring 2019

taylor-310Taylor Schuck knew his athletic career as a wrestler at Central Michigan University would come to an end eventually. It’s a reality that every wrestler must grapple with, as wrestling is a sport that, generally, can only take you so far before internships and graduation pin you into submitting to the real-world realities that await young professionals. What Schuck didn’t know was just how soon he’d be knocked out of competition. A major hip injury sustained during his redshirt sophomore year ended his student athlete career — but it would surprisingly shape his accounting and finance career. Below, Schuck, a senior accounting services associate at Mueller & Co. LLP and Illinois CPA Society member, shares his story and some insights for his peers.

Undergoing major reconstructive hip surgery ended my wrestling career and left me as a 20-something in need of rehabilitation and chronic pain management as I completed my accounting and finance majors at CMU. In seeking alternatives to opioid prescription pain killers, I learned that the state of Michigan had legalized medical cannabis use in 2008. While not for everyone, I saw the responsible use of cannabis as a potential option for recovery. So, following my surgery, I applied for and received a medical cannabis patient card.

During the next few years, I had the unique opportunity to experience firsthand a highly unregulated caregiver-driven cannabis industry. Michigan’s law had little to no provisions for the licensing of businesses or the testing of products being sold to patients. This environment forced patients to either grow cannabis for themselves or find a caregiver who would grow and distribute their plant allotment to them. In some municipalities where provisioning centers could open, patients still suffered due to the lack of oversight, and the state wasn’t realizing the full benefit from the revenue that could be generated through better licensing and regulation of the industry. As a patient and an accountant-to-be, this raised a lot of questions and concerns in me, which drove me to learn more about the cannabis industry and its potential in Michigan and across the country.

During this same time, my home state of Illinois had begun licensing medical cannabis cultivation facilities, dispensaries, and patients under the 2013 Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. I immediately noticed a substantial difference between how Illinois and Michigan had approached legalizing and regulating medical cannabis, and I saw an opportunity in it.

Following graduation, I moved back to Chicago to work for Mueller & Co. LLP as an auditor. But my interest in the cannabis industry hadn’t faded. After building up the courage to share my story and ideas, I approached the firm’s leadership about providing professional services to the cannabis industry and, to my surprise, was given permission to join various cannabis industry associations, attend trainings, and participate in industry events as the firm explored how to offer services to the controversial, complex, and fast-growing industry.

The fact is that cannabis businesses — then and now — are in desperate need of accounting, audit, and tax services, and general business advice. Who better for the job than an accountant/auditor with firsthand experience in the industry? So, shortly thereafter, I helped Mueller pick up its first vertically integrated cannabis manufacturer and retailer client in northern Nevada. From there, I continued to network with other accountants and attorneys in the industry and leveraged my expanding experience and cannabis knowledge to help Mueller’s cannabis niche practice rapidly expand.

Since starting the cannabis niche offering at Mueller, I have moved from audit to the accounting services department where I now provide cannabis businesses with ongoing accounting and tax support. Considering that each state regulates medical and adult-use cannabis differently, and often regulations are revised several times, cannabis clients are working in an ever-changing environment. And, as we see more states legalizing and regulating cannabis production and use in myriad forms, we anticipate alterations to federal enforcement will eventually result in changes to how cannabis businesses are taxed and access banking and financial services. The current state of the cannabis industry already requires a constant need for our guidance and expertise — what’s to come as it matures?

I never imagined being a medical cannabis patient as an accounting and finance student would lead me to be a senior associate leading a new, often controversial, cannabis niche practice at a midsized CPA firm. It was my passion, persistence, and willingness to go beyond my comfort zone, both personally and professionally, that has allowed me this opportunity. Now, I can even help you find opportunities in the cannabis industry as the chair of the Illinois CPA Society’s Cannabis Industry Member Forum.

Existing cannabis businesses will continue to require increased planning and ongoing support from accountants and auditors. And as Illinois now moves towards adult recreational-use legalization, and cannabis use becomes more prevalent in society overall, there will be more opportunities for accounting and finance professionals like us to grow our own opportunities in a very specialized industry. If you would like to learn more about serving this industry, please join me at an upcoming Cannabis Industry Member Forum meeting. The time to get involved in the cannabis industry was yesterday.

To learn more about the Illinois CPA Society’s Cannabis Industry Member Forum, contact Taylor Schuck or PaigeMcLeod, Illinois CPA Society volunteer engagement and governance manager.

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