Cook County Commissioners propose 3 percent cannabis sales tax in wake of legalization

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Isabelle Sarraf, Assistant Campus Editor

The Cook County Board of Commissioners proposed a three percent cannabis sales tax at a Dec. 19 meeting, the highest a state can tax.

The tax would be in addition to local sales tax and a 20 to 30 percent state tax based on cannabis potency, which means Evanston residents could pay almost 40 percent in taxes on recreational cannabis. If passed, the tax would be imposed starting July 1.

Larry Suffredin — the Cook County Commissioner for District 13, which includes Evanston — said the tax was reasonable given the high first-day cannabis sales. Illinois yielded around $5.4 million in cannabis sales within the first two days of legalization for recreational use.

“The county will be impacted more than municipalities because we run a large healthcare system,” Suffredin said. “The expectations of medical experts is that they will have a lot of marijuana-related cases coming in, and many of them are people who don’t have insurance, so we’re going to have to cover that.”

Commissioner Bill Lowry said recreational cannabis sales could generate up to $2.5 billion in recreational sales annually in Illinois.

The county also established an 11-member Cannabis Commission, consisting of several commissioners and administrators. The commission will analyze the impact of the recreational cannabis industry on Cook County, particularly social equity and decriminalization efforts, Lowry said.

“The work of the Cook County Cannabis Commission will be far-reaching,” Lowry said. “One thing I think is very important is that we look at every way possible to bring about investment in disproportionately impacted areas in Cook County.”

MedMen, 1804 Maple Ave., is currently the only licensed cannabis dispensary in Evanston. Police officials estimated that on the first day of sales, there were roughly 400 people were in line at one time, according to the Chicago Tribune. One week after legalization, customers are still lining up outside the dispensary’s doors up to two hours before it opens to purchase recreational and medical cannabis, according to an Evanston MedMen representative.

Morgan Sokol, the vice president of regulatory affairs at MedMen, said with any tax increase, government entities should consider and measure how price affects cannabis consumers. She said in California, high cannabis taxes have undercut the regulated market, driving consumers to illicit markets that often sell untested and unregulated products.

“There needs to be careful analysis done to ensure that there’s not going to be a situation where cannabis is too expensive and (Illinois consumers) will only access the illicit market,” Sokol said.

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Twitter: @isabellesarraf

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