A McLean County government panel is recommending the county seek the highest tax rate Illinois law will allow to offset anticipated costs associated with legalized marijuana.
The County Board’s finance committee voted 4-2 on Wednesday to endorse a 3.75% tax on cannabis sales in unincorporated areas of the county and 3% in incorporated areas. That tax is in addition to what the municipalities may charge.
The proposal goes to the full County Board for a vote on Feb. 18.
Board member Jacob Beard suggested the county consider lower tax rates of 1% in unincorporated areas and .25% in incorporated areas. He called the higher taxes a “cash grab,” because the county lacks a clear idea on the extent of costs to expunge criminal records.
“I would be happy next year or whenever, as we have good estimates of what the actual financial costs of this change is to the county, to have this revenue source pay for that cost, but without that, it’s speculation,” Beard said.
His proposal failed in a 4-2 vote.
Board member Josh Barnett cited additional potential costs including law enforcement and health care associated with legal cannabis.
“I would much rather tax marijuana than have to go to my constituents and explain to them at some point that we had to raise their property taxes to take care of just general increased needs to run the day-to-say services of the county,” Barnett said.
Board member Laurie Wollrab sought the lower tax rates amid concerns higher taxes could drive some cannabis users to the black market. She said she favors a cautious approach.
“It comes back to me, the speculation that maybe we want to tax it so much people go back to drinking and driving drunk,” Wollrab said.
Board member Chuck Erickson argued for taxing cannabis to the maximum to offset costs “as much as it pains me to vote for a tax increase.”
According to data County Administrator Camille Rodriguez presented to the board, a majority of Illinois counties that have set cannabis tax rates have chosen the maximums.
McLean County hasn’t so far received any state licenses for recreational cannabis.
The county is reaffirming its zero-tolerance drug policy for county employees, even if cannabis use is now legal in Illinois.
The finance committee signed off on a new drug policy that maintains cannabis as a banned substance for employees on the job.
Rodriguez said the county’s policy sets expectations that all county employees be “fit for duty.”
“We have an expectation that everyone arrives to work ready to do good work in this county and to serve the citizens of McLean County to the best of their abilities,” she said. “For us that means a zero-tolerance policy,”
The proposal also maintains its bans on the possession or use of cannabis anywhere on county property by the public.
The county’s existing policy calls for random drug testing for employees in positions deemed “safety sensitive,” including probation officers, corrections officers and sheriff’s deputies. The new policy would continue that practice.
Rodriguez said employees who fail a drug test could face disciplinary action, including termination.
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