Road less traveled leads Las Vegas CPA to marijuana industry

Naomi Granger laughs during an interview at the Las Vegas Sun offices in Henderson Wednesday, March 20, 2019. Granger, a former corporate accountant, is the co-founder and COO of Dope CFO, a company that teaches accountants how to cater to the cannabis industry.

If a career in accounting is supposed to be boring, nobody told Naomi Granger. A certified public accountant by trade, Granger noticed the need for accounting services in the cannabis industry in 2017.

Less than two years later, Granger is enjoying the success of Dope CFO, a firm she co-founded to train accountants to service cannabis businesses, which are shunned by most big national banks.

“It’s fun and exciting,” Granger said. “During my former career as an accountant, I was always the one that bounced around from industry to industry because I wanted to learn something new. With this industry, it’s kind of like being in the wild Wild West.”

After partnering with fellow CPA Andrew Hunzicker to start Dope CFO in late 2017, Granger has seen the business take off. It now has more than 200 “members” in 40 different states, she said.

Granger, a Las Vegas native, graduated from Advanced Technologies Academy and left Nevada in 1999 to study accounting at Florida A&M University.

After finishing college and working in the industry for more than a decade, including stints at powerhouse firms like PwC, Ernst and Young, and Deloitte, Granger wasn’t sure she wanted to stick with accounting.

“I got to a point in my career where I wanted a change,” she said. “I was tired of working out of a cubicle and wanted a career where I could work remotely from my computer. I thought I had made a mistake in my career choice and that there was no way I could do accounting remotely.”

While plotting her escape from the profession in 2016 — she thought seriously about becoming a health coach — Granger started taking various online courses. Eventually, she stumbled upon a training program for remote accountants that encouraged CPAs to focus on a specific niche in the field.

Enter the emerging legal cannabis industry.

“What I learned was the cannabis market was underserved by accountants,” Granger said. “I thought it was an industry where you could become an expert pretty quickly because it was so new. It’s also complex, so it’s not something you can just pick up and apply your current knowledge to.”

While some states, including Nevada, California, Washington and Oregon, allow legal recreational marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law. Partly for this reason, large banks have shied away from servicing cannabis businesses.

It’s an issue that has also caught the eye of lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R.-Nev., who would like to see banking opened up to the marijuana industry.

“I’m not blaming the banks,” Amodei said. “The banks don’t want to get involved in playing chicken with the regulators, and I get that.”

The Internal Revenue Service also keeps eagle eye on marijuana businesses, and keeping the books can get complicated, Granger said.

“The big issue is the regulation,” Granger said. “Cannabis companies have to follow a tax code that says operating expenses can’t be written off. You can only write off the cost of goods sold. Many people don’t understand cost accounting for these companies. A lot of them are getting in hot water with the IRS and receiving penalties and fees upwards of $70,000 for accuracy penalties.”

Dope CFO was incorporated in Oregon, but Granger does most of her work remotely, which allows her the time to do what she loves — travel. This year alone, Granger has been to China, Mexico and Ethiopia.

The company doesn’t service any clients in Nevada. For now, Granger said, she and Hunzicker are focused on growing Dope CFO and on rolling out a new venture.

“Our next product is going to be called ‘Dispensary in a Box,’ where we teach people who are interested in opening their own dispensary,” Granger said. “I think in the next three to five years, marijuana will be federally legal. I know a lot of the business owners we work with are already in talks with big corporations who want to get on board.”

For someone who was looking for an alternate career just a couple of years ago, Granger seems to have found the right niche. She was recently named one of Marijuana Business Magazine’s Women to Watch for 2019.

“I feel like this is an entirely new economy,” Granger said. “If you go back to when the car was invented, you then needed roads and motels and gas stations and tires and mechanics. I feel like the marijuana industry is doing the exact same thing now.”