DuPage County expected to vote next month on recreational pot sales in unincorporated areas

DuPage County Board members expect to decide next month whether to allow recreational marijuana sales in unincorporated areas.

But even if they reject the idea, DuPage still could impose a county tax on businesses that open in municipalities.

The board on Tuesday spent nearly three hours listening to residents and presentations from experts about how DuPage could be affected if it allows businesses to sell marijuana under Illinois' Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. The state law will make recreational use and possession by adults legal beginning Jan. 1.

Chairman Dan Cronin concluded Tuesday's discussion by asking staff members to prepare three resolutions for consideration on Oct. 8.

One would create an ordinance imposing a 3% tax on all retail sales of recreational cannabis sold in municipalities.

"We want to do that first and foremost," Cronin said. "I think everybody pretty much agrees on that."

The second would be to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana in unincorporated areas.

The third would be to allow recreational pot dispensaries in unincorporated areas as long as they meet the same zoning requirements as medical cannabis businesses.

"Everyone will have an opportunity to express their view to persuade their fellow county board members," Cronin said.

He said it's the only responsible way to proceed, "where there doesn't really appear to be an overwhelming consensus on the board."

Earlier during the meeting, State's Attorney Robert Berlin talked about issues other states faced after legalizing marijuana.

He pointed to statistics showing Colorado experienced increases in property crime and violent crime. There also was an increase in the number of traffic fatalities with drivers testing positive for marijuana.

Drug dealers don't go out of business because their product is cheaper than retail pot that is taxed. "The black market remains because it's good old-fashioned economics," Berlin said.

County health department officials said the availability of recreational marijuana is expected to increase use among adults and youths and hurt the health of residents.

"We anticipate increased demand for local public health services to address consequences for increased marijuana use," Executive Director Karen Ayala said. "We also anticipate additional demand for substances use disorder treatment."

Given what public health officials are saying, board member Pete DiCianni said it's not worth it for the county to allow recreational marijuana sales in unincorporated areas, especially since it's able to impose a 3% tax on sales in incorporated areas.

If DuPage allows cannabis to be sold in unincorporated areas, it can place a sales tax of up to 3.75% on the sales. It's estimated that a dispensary earning $5 million a year in an unincorporated area could generate $259,500 for the county. But DuPage could still collect an estimated $172,563 in tax revenue from that same business if was in a municipality, officials say.

So DiCianni said he doesn't see "a whole lot of upside" to allowing the sale in unincorporated areas.

"If we can still tax the municipalities that decide to do this, we're still making something without necessarily making this the badge of honor for DuPage County," the Elmhurst Republican said, "that we just opened up the gates."

If the sale of recreational cannabis is allowed in unincorporated DuPage, the plan is to require dispensaries to be located at least 1,000 feet from the property line of a school, day care facility or area zoned for residential use.

Officials said there are three areas in unincorporated DuPage where a recreational marijuana dispensary could be located if the same zoning restrictions for medical marijuana businesses were used. But one of the areas is near Aurora and Metea Valley High School.

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