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Reefer madness in Will County: Board members say yes to recreational marijuana zoning, sales tax

In a series of split votes last week, the Will County Board took action to authorize a tax on recreational marijuana sales in unincorporated areas and in municipalities located in Will County.

The decision did not come without some opposition.

Board member Judy Ogalla (R-Monee), who doesn’t support the county in opting in to allow recreational marijuana sales, said the idea of adopting the tax isn’t the right course of action to take.

“If we want somebody to buy from a dispensary, we need to make it the most inexpensive we can,” she said. “Putting a tax on it increases the cost of it. I’m very concerned that the people who cannot afford that cost will continue to go to the black market and use those products. But the benefit would be that those who choose, and if there’s a craft grower nearby, they could get a better product. It’s not fair to all people who might want to use marijuana in a recreational manner.”

At the same time, the county intends to place the revenue generated by recreational marijuana sales into a special fund, which had not been earmarked for any specific purpose.

Board member Gloria Dollinger (D-Joliet) said the county should determine in advance how funds would be used, if it intends to tax people for buying recreational marijuana.

Board member Jacqueline Traynere (D-Bolingbrook) shared a differing viewpoint, saying it would be premature to dedicate all the funding generated by recreational marijuana sales toward health and safety.

“They can’t spend it anyway,” she said. “It’s not in their budget. So, why not just see how much money it is and then make the decision?”

Traynere referenced an idea raised at the committee level by board member Rachel Ventura (D-Joliet) to allocate funding toward reparations.

Not everyone was on the board with that idea.

Board member Steve Balich (R-Homer Glen) said he is opposed to the county using funding to pay for reparations.

The board reached a consensus directing the new funding generated by the tax toward areas that could be impacted by the sale of recreational marijuana. This includes, among other possibilities, allocating revenue toward health ands safety.

Taxes on recreational marijuana sales will start at 3.75% in unincorporated areas and 3% in a municipality located in Will County.

In another series of votes, members of the Will County Board approved a set of zoning regulations for recreational marijuana business establishments.

Will County intends to require a special use permit to restrict operations of this type from setting up shop in unincorporated areas. In addition, the county will use buffer zones to prohibit recreational marijuana business establishments near schools, daycare centers and residential neighborhoods.

Board member Ray Tuminello (R-New Lenox) suggested that the county board add a 1.5-mile buffer between unincorporated areas and communities that opted out of recreational marijuana sales.

Several officials agreed, saying it sounds like a reasonable request to consider.

Still, some said they would not support an amended motion to include a 1.5-mile buffer. Traynere said she will not be swayed to vote differently because of the fear some people have expressed for the idea of allowing the sale of recreational marijuana within the county’s unincorporated areas.

“I hear the residents are concerned,” she said. “They’re calling county board members. I hear mayors are concerned. They’re calling county board members. They’re worried about this unincorporated area. They do have some options. They can incorporate these areas, and then they would be opted out like the community itself if they, in fact, opted out.”

Ogalla took time to make her case known as to why the county needs to withdraw the C-1 Local Commercial Zoning Districts from the list of areas where recreational marijuana business establishments are permitted.

The lack of buffering between operations of this type near homes also raises concern for board members Julie Berkowicz (R-Naperville) and Tuminello. Both said they think Ogalla raises a good point and is making a reasonable request.

“I don’t think removing a 0-foot buffer between marijuana and your home is too much to ask for,” Tuminello said.

“If you don’t think that this could get out of control, just go to Cook County where they have slot machines everywhere,” Berkowicz said.

Board member Rachel Ventura (D-Joliet) acknowledged their concerns, saying that officials have done their homework on this issue.

“It also would be somewhat restrictive,” she said. “We did look into that. … We did put in safeguards for schools and sensitive areas for colleges and universities.”

Ultimately, members of the county board voted to establish a set of zoning regulations for recreational marijuana business establishments in accordance to previous action taken at the committee level.


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