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Cook County Cashes In On Legal Weed

Thursday, January 16, 2020
WBEZ News
by Kristin Schorsch

Buying legal weed in Cook County just got more expensive.

The County Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved a 3% tax on recreational marijuana sales, effective July 1. The county joins the parade of other governments cashing in after cannabis became legal in Illinois on Jan. 1.

Cook County’s tax is in addition to state and Chicago or suburban government taxes. Overall, buying recreational pot in Cook County could be taxed at up to 40%, depending on the strength of the weed.

Of the 17-member County Board, 11 commissioners voted yes, four voted present and two were absent Thursday.

Democratic Commissioner Stanley Moore, who represents parts of the Chicago’s South Side that hug Lake Michigan, said he voted present to make a point.

“I don’t want us to have the same issues that every other body of government has had around marijuana sales and revenue,” Moore said. “I would just want to make sure that we set the standard right now on how we’re going to tax it, what the revenue is going to be used for and moving forward to make sure black and brown communities are not left out.”

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In December, some Chicago aldermen in the City Council’s Black Caucus tried to delay pot sales because they wanted more minorities in the mushrooming legal weed industry.

Democratic Commissioner Bridget Degnen, who represents parts of Chicago’s North Side, said she voted present to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Before becoming a commissioner, Degnen was deputy director of medical cannabis for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

Degnen helped draft rules to regulate medical cannabis dispensaries, helped license them around the state, and disciplined them when they broke the rules. Some contributed to her political campaign when she ran for commissioner in 2018, Degnen said.

The lone two Republican commissioners on the board, Sean Morrison and Peter Silvestri, also voted present.

Preckwinkle denies a power grab over Cook County Health

In other news, after the board meeting Thursday, Board President Toni Preckwinkle made her first public comments about plans to have more sweeping power over the county-run health system after a rocky year.

The health system has had its own board since 2008. But as it faces significant budget challenges and searches for a new CEO, Preckwinkle said it was a good time to get more accountability, transparency and communication from the health system board.

After Dr. Jay Shannon was ousted as Cook County Health’s leader after five years at the helm, Preckwinkle said, “We looked frankly at everything that was going on at the system, and the conclusion was that the [County] Board and the president needed to be more involved.”

She said having more authority over the health system was not a power grab.

Here’s what’s at stake and why Preckwinkle and commissioners are so concerned: Cook County Health makes up nearly half of the county’s overall $6.2 billion budget, yet the system is grappling with how to treat a rising number of people who have no insurance while other public and private hospitals treat less. It’s a constant frustration and concern for county leaders.

The amount of medical care Cook County Health is slated to provide this year — without getting paid for it — is estimated to reach nearly $600 million.

Cook County Health is one of the largest public health systems in the nation. It’s a medical safety net considered to be the last resort for low-income and uninsured patients in the county. The system has two hospitals — flagship John H. Stroger, Jr. on the Near West Side and the smaller Provident Hospital on the South Side — a network of urban and suburban clinics, and a Medicaid health insurance plan for the poor and disabled.

Kristen Schorsh covers Cook County politics for WBEZ. Follow her @kschorsch.



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