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Local

Lee County votes down marijuana tax, Whiteside approves it

DIXON – Lee County’s proposed sales tax for recreational marijuana went up in smoke Tuesday while Whiteside signed off on theirs.

The Whiteside County Board approved imposing a 3.75 percent tax on recreational marijuana sold in unincorporated areas of the county and a 3 percent tax on sales made in municipalities. The board approved the measure unanimously without discussion.

The Lee County Board rejected implementing the same sales tax following heated discussion with the majority of members uncomfortable showing any support for recreational marijuana, which becomes legal for those 21 and older come Jan. 1.

“I don’t feel like this is for the benefit of our county,” Chairman John Nicholson said.

Board member Dave Bowers said approving the tax would send a bad message that the county was in the drug business.

Lee County State’s Attorney Matt Klahn explained that the county can pass the tax and still choose to opt out from having dispensaries, but it would allow them to collect taxes from municipalities that allow them, such as Dixon.

The Dixon City Council hasn’t formally made a decision on dispensaries but is in the process of drafting zoning regulations for such establishments and has an interested developer confident on securing one of three recreational licenses that the state will grant in the region in May.

Board member Bob Olsen argued that it would be worse not to tax it, and it’s revenue the county would miss out on.

“Without taxing it, it makes it look like it’s tax free in our county,” Olsen said.

Board members Jim Schielein and Tom Kitson said it’s hypocritical for the board to sign off on taxing marijuana when they’re participating in a nationwide lawsuit against opioid companies.

“It’s hypocrisy for the sake of revenue,” Schielein said.

“As desperate as we need revenue, we don’t need this,” Kitson added.

The vote failed 7-to-14 with three members absent, and the board plans to vote on an opt-out ordinance next month. Municipalities cannot outlaw recreational marijuana but can set zoning regulations or close the door to dispensaries and smoke shops.

Counties and cities are voting on local marijuana taxes this month so there’s enough time for the Illinois Department of Revenue to process them by the start of the year.

Legislation called for municipalities to decide on the tax by June 1 to be able to start collecting in September 2020, but the bill is likely to be amended so cities and counties can start collecting as early as Jan. 1.

The Dixon City Council approved a 3 percent tax Monday, and Sterling approved the same last month.

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