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Illinois bill regulating delta-8, other hemp products stalls in House

Products containing delta-8 THC are displayed at Botanic Alternatives, 2497 N. Milwaukee Ave. in the Logan Square neighborhood, in April 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Products containing delta-8 THC are displayed at Botanic Alternatives, 2497 N. Milwaukee Ave. in the Logan Square neighborhood, in April 2021.

Sellers of delta-8 THC, CBD and other hemp-derived products breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday as state lawmakers left Springfield without passing legislation that would effectively have banned most of their sales.

But advocates on both sides of a contentious debate pitting Illinois’ multibillion-dollar cannabis industry against its growing hemp sector said they were disappointed to enter another summer without any regulations on intoxicating substances that remain easily accessible to young customers.

“We don’t want pop-up smoke shops opening on every corner,” said state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago. “We need to make sure we have some licenses, and limit how many we have, so we don’t turn Chicago into ‘Delta and Marijuana City.’”

Ford was against the legislation that passed the Illinois Senate by a 54-1 vote over the weekend that would limit hemp-derived THC sales to state-licensed cannabis dispensaries, among other reforms.

Sales of delta-8 and delta-9 products have boomed over the last few years at gas stations and convenience stores nationwide, thanks to a loophole in federal law that doesn’t restrict potlike substances that can be extracted from hemp. High school students have been sickened in Chicago by such products, which don’t face stringent testing and labeling requirements.

The bill sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Hillside, would’ve cut out delta-8 sellers who haven’t gone through Illinois’ rigorous — and expensive — cannabis dispensary licensing process, but House members didn’t take up the bill by the end of a marathon spring budget session.

“After months of negotiations, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that all sides agreed upon, further ensuring our common goal to have a fair, just and safe industry,” Lightford said in a statement. “The bill we put forth showed the dire need to regulate the hemp industry before we lose yet another young life to these pervasive products. It’s unfortunate the House could not meet the urgency.”

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Lightford’s bill could be taken up by the House when members return to Springfield in the fall, though it would have a higher hurdle for approval. Bills passed after May 31 require a three-fifths majority.

Ford estimated support was well short of that threshold among his colleagues in the super-majority House Democratic caucus.

He’s pushing a separate bill that would limit sales to people 21 or older, require manufacturers to undergo product testing to obtain $500 licenses, impose a 10% tax rate on sellers and — most importantly, he said — allow current sellers to stay in the market.

“It’s not like we can get rid of it. You can’t ban something that’s grown like this,” Ford said. “Let’s not try to have an industry that directly competes with cannabis. Put this industry in its own lane, just like beer is in its own lane and rum and spirits are in their own lane.”

Jennifer Weiss, owner of the Roscoe Village wellness shop Cubbington’s Cabinet, said she was “extremely relieved” by the stalling of Lightford’s bill, which Weiss said also would have effectively outlawed the nonintoxicating CBD products she sells — and put her out of business.

“It would’ve benefited the big cannabis companies, but unfortunately not the hundreds, if not thousands, of small businesses that rely on hemp-based products,” Weiss said. “Now what we need are some good-faith negotiations with all the stakeholders at the table.”

Tiffany Chappell Ingram, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois that pushed Lightford’s bill, said in a statement: “We are disappointed the House failed to pass needed reforms to our state’s cannabis laws and will continue to allow synthetic hemp products that are sickening children and adults to be sold with no oversight.

“Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for these measures in the Senate, there is clearly more work to do to educate legislators about these important matters.”
Speaking at an end-of-session news conference, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he thinks regulations would be “proper” but didn’t say whether he’d be in favor of a ban on sales beyond dispensaries.

“It’s clear that it’s not for medicinal purposes. It’s not regulated the way that cannabis is, and yet it ends up on the market, and there’s no restriction on who gets it [or] how much they can get,” Pritzker said. “I really believe that we need to step back and ask what is in the best interest of the health of kids and adults across the state.”