Following passionate pleas from medical cannabis patients and business owners against taxing medicine, the Oak Park village board delayed action on a 6 percent tax on medical marijuana cultivation centers.
Village Manager Cara Pavlicek told trustees that the village tax would mirror Evanston’s, which imposes a 6 percent sales tax on liquor sales and medical marijuana.
But advocates argued that a so-called vice tax should not be applied to medical cannabis, which is considered a medication by the state.
Oak Park resident Michele Haptonstahl told trustees that the cost of the tax will be passed on to people who are “suffering from severe and debilitating illnesses.”
“Many [medical cannabis] patients are not able to work or cut back on work due to being sick,” she said. “The loss of income is a big issue for these patients.”
She noted that medical cannabis still is not covered by medical insurance, so patients will be forced to pay out of pocket.
Haptonstahl said her daughter suffers from a debilitating illness and has received a prescription for medical cannabis. She did not identify her daughter’s illness, but noted that her symptoms are so severe she is unable to work a full-time job.
“These people and my daughter already served their fair share of suffering,” she said.
Brad Zerman, CEO of Seven Point marijuana dispensary which plans an Oak Park location, said the tax would make his business less competitive with nearby dispensaries, drive business back to the black market and be a burden to patients.
He reminded trustees that medical cannabis is used as a treatment for patients with AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and ALS, among others. “This could be the tipping point for the success or failure of this program,” he said.
“The goal of the [medical cannabis program] was to help create safe and regulated products,” he said. “The higher prices caused by this proposed tax are diametrically opposed to that primary point of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, which was to provide incentive for patients to move their business from the black market to licensed medical cannabis facilities.”
Ross Morreale, chairman of the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, argued that the village is prohibited by state law from imposing a tax on medical cannabis the same way it is prevented from imposing a tax on prescription drugs. He threatened to sue the village if it moved forward with the tax, informing trustees that they open the village to “protracted and expensive litigation” if the tax was approved.
Trustee Peter Barber said he “does not like” the comparison of medical cannabis to recreational alcohol sales, adding that “a lot of folks in pain going for other [prescription] drugs are not going to be taxed.”
Addressing Morreale, however, Barber said: “You almost lost me there by threatening to sue us.”
Trustee Andrea Ott noted that after the state approved the pilot program, village staff attempted to change the zoning, requiring any dispensary to stay within the medical district of Rush Oak Park Hospital because it is a medication and not for recreational use. Trustees ultimately rejected that plan from village staff, but Ott noted, “We argued then that we shouldn’t be treating it any different than pharmaceuticals.”
Trustees decided to table the tax proposal until the board’s second meeting in September to give Village Attorney Paul Stephanides time to review the legality of the tax.