With time running out before recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois, members of the Will County Board have been debating about allowing sales, taxes and other matters.
Several board members participated in a Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday to learn more about marijuana, its potential health concerns and what the county could tax and regulate.
The state Legislature passed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act during its spring session, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana effective Jan. 1.
Local governments were given the ability to opt out of allowing the commercial sale of recreational marijuana. A growing number of Will County communities, including Bolingbrook, Plainfield and Wilmington, have already voted to ban sales. The Joliet City Council narrowly voted to approve a 3% tax on recreational marijuana sales but has yet to vote on whether to allow sales.
Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Guzman advised the County Board to at least indicate whether it would favor allowing recreational sales, so that county staff could continue preparing potential ordinances regarding issues such as zoning.
All of this could be further complicated by additional legislation to clarify various aspects of the new law, something that is expected from the state Legislature during its fall veto session, which typically is a series of meetings to reassess bills vetoed by the governor.
Kathleen Burke, Will County’s director of substance use initiatives, gave a presentation about the health risks of using marijuana.
Burke focused on basic information about the drug and the potential harms of using it, especially for young people. She highlighted risk factors such as higher concentrations of THC, the cannabis plant’s main psychoactive component, in modern marijuana products.
“You can’t just assume that its going to be not dangerous,” Burke said.
Burke said that Will County is already under-resourced in terms of public health services, and she posed the question to board members of how the county might handle additional health issues among its residents after recreational marijuana is legal.
Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, took issue with parts of Burke’s presentation and touted the medicinal benefits of marijuana, although Burke wanted to make a clear distinction between the medicinal use and recreational use of the product.
Although Ventura agreed with Burke’s concern over marijuana’s harmful effects on the developing brains of those younger than 25, she pointed out that the state set the legal age to purchase at 21. Ventura said that since the state already legalized recreational marijuana, the board should focus on regulations to handle illegal use.
Members were also looking for clarification on how the county could tax sales in both incorporated and unincorporated areas.
Municipal governments are allowed to pass a tax of up to 3% on recreational marijuana sales within their borders. County governments can then put an additional tax of up to 3% on recreational sales in those incorporated areas and a tax of up to 3.75% for sales in unincorporated areas.
Even if the County Board doesn’t vote to ban recreational marijuana sales – which by default would legalize them – there might still be a debate as to how to tax those sales.
Although she is not in favor of allowing sales, Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said that she would like a tax to accommodate for potential health care or law enforcement cost increases.
Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, said he still wasn’t sure which way to go in terms of allowing recreational sales in unincorporated areas, but that he certainly was against taxing sales.
“The state of Illinois taxes way too much right now,” Balich said. “So if we’re going to legalize it, we should not be taxing it.”
Jackie Traynere, D-Bolingbrook, said she was in favor of allowing sales and taxing them, adding it would be “foolish” not to.
“It’s going to take place whether we agree to it or not,” she said. “So we might as well take control and regulate it.”
Sam Salustro, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, said that even if counties ban sales in unincorporated areas, they still might be able to pass a tax of up to 3% for sales in municipalities that do allow sales.
At least among the mostly Republican members who stayed for the entire meeting, there appeared to be a consensus in favor of taking more time on the decision.
Speaker Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet, asked the members if they would ultimately accept taking another month to get more information and then voting on whether to opt out at the board’s November meeting.
Next month’s full Will County Board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21, although the full board will also meet Oct. 17.