(This article contains spoilers)
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “[N]othing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Let’s face it, taxes are worse. Death can be a romantic notion; taxes cannot, unless of course you can consider it romantic that some taxes transcend life. Estate tax, for one, essentially taxes the dead. The bottom line is that there is no escape from paying taxes—except for the select few involved in criminal enterprises. But now one of those criminal entrepreneurs wants to change that. Is she crazy?
Ms. Poppy from the movie Kingsman: Golden Circle, owns the world’s largest drug business. Judging by the illegality of her business, she likely has never paid taxes on her earnings. But, due to the seclusion of this enterprise, no one knows about her or her success. This is quite the blow to an ego of a successful entrepreneur like Poppy. Eventually, she came up with a devious plan to earn the recognition she felt she deserved. She would poison her consumers and use their lives as leverage to force the President to legalize drugs so that she could be considered a successful businesswoman just like any other large business owner.
Once her plan works and her drug business becomes legal, she has to start paying taxes. It remains uncertain whether or not she realizes this problem when she proposes the idea. Of course, even if she does not, she can always blackmail the president again. But Poppy might want to pay the taxes so that she appears more legitimate. If that is the case, her plan is actually fairly well thought-out.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus just on her marijuana business (and not heroin or whatever else). Since her goal is to be famous, she needs to be able to advertise herself and her business. She could do that by either moving to a state where marijuana is legalized, like Colorado, or she could have the entire industry legalized.
There is a provision in the IRC (26 U.S.C. § 280E) that deals specifically with illegal drug sales, which disallows any deduction of normal or necessary business expenses like employee salaries, with the exception of cost of goods sold. Therefore, if Poppy simply moves her business to a state that legalizes marijuana, she would have to pay a higher tax than other legal businesses, because those businesses can deduct their business expenses, including wages, salaries, and advertising costs.
This is not a good business decision for Poppy because she would be spending a lot of money on advertising—since indeed she wants recognition—but she would not be able to deduct any of it. By legalizing the entire marijuana industry, however, that provision would no longer apply to her business, and she could enjoy the deduction of regular business expenses. At least in the taxation sense, her drug business would share the same status as other controversial businesses like tobacco or alcohol.
Of course, there are other considerations. Perhaps due to the publicity Poppy gains from broadcasting the blackmail, she might also have saved some advertising expenses. Or, on the other hand, her tax evasion may become known once her business is legalized. But with the statute of limitations, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) still might not be able to recover much of the taxes she failed to pay all of those years.
You have to admit, despite being a total maniac, Poppy might be a pretty shrewd businesswoman. Still, this is quite a large price to pay (literally) for fame. Would you do the same?