Illinois lawmakers fail again to pass hemp regulations and medical cannabis expansion (2024)

Illinois lawmakers again failed to take action to keep dangerous hemp products out of the hands of children, prompting a call from Gov. J.B. Pritzker to regulate the industry.

The measure had bipartisan support and easily passed the Senate, but stalled in the House of Representatives at the end of the legislative session Wednesday. Divisions among factions of the cannabis business community again torpedoed the bill.

Pritzker called for regulating hemp products, which can be intoxicating and are widely sold without age restrictions.

“I believe that an unregulated product like this, which has clearly caused some health problems, ought to be regulated by the state,” he said.

Hemp, defined as cannabis with less than 0.3% delta-9 THC, the component that gets users high, is legal under federal law. But producers have found ways to chemically derive intoxicating byproducts such as delta-8 and delta-9 THC that are sold in vape shops and gas stations. As a result, in some cases, adolescents have ended up being hospitalized for overdoses.

“The current unregulated market undermines social equity license holders who have long worked to establish a legal, well-regulated business,” Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford said. “As we move toward regulation of hemp and delta-8 products, we must do so in a way that is equitable and provides opportunities within the evolving industry.”

Unlicensed hemp business owners feared that Lightford’s proposed restrictions, while protecting hemp beverage makers, would have put many of them out of business. Hemp advocates again called for requiring testing and labeling of products, and establishing a minimum age for customers to be 21 or older, which they say responsible companies already do.

“It feels good to still be alive,” said Charles Wu, owner of Chi’Tiva, a hemp grower and retailer. “But the problems have not been solved. We want regulations for 21-plus and packaging and labeling standards, but there’s never been a compromise.”

A separate controversy arose in the licensed cannabis industry over a wide-ranging “omnibus” bill would have allowed all dispensaries to sell to medical patients without imposing a retail tax. Instead, medical patients will remain restricted to getting the discount at only the 55 original medical dispensaries in the state.

That means both that the market favors large established companies that own most of the medical dispensaries, and that some patients remain in rural dispensary “deserts” where they have to travel more than 25 miles to get their products.

The proposal also would have allowed curbside pickup and drive-thru windows, remote online doctor exams, reduced barriers to people with criminal records working in the industry, and repealed certain cultivator and craft grower taxes.

The Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, which represents many large companies, supported both a hemp crackdown and the expansion of medical cannabis.

Illinois lawmakers fail again to pass hemp regulations and medical cannabis expansion (1)

“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,” Executive Director Tiffany Chappell Ingram said. “Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for these measures in the Senate, there is clearly more work to do to educate legislators about these important matters.”

The Cannabis Equity Coalition of Illinois blamed large Chicago-based cannabis company Green Thumb Industries (GTI) for lobbying to oppose medical dispensary expansion.

The nonprofit coalition, which represents small business owners and advocates, called for a boycott of GTI products and Rise dispensaries, saying they were “under siege by corporate greed!”

The Illinois Independent Craft Growers Association wrote a letter to the governor, calling for expanding medical marijuana discounts to all dispensaries.

“GTI’s opposition to this change is an attempt to maintain their monopoly on being able to offer the tax advantages to medical card holders, preventing new and smaller dispensaries from entering the medical market, which limits competition and harms patients and local craft growers,” the letter stated. “This has to stop. Our legislators need to focus on the 140,000 medical patients and not on those companies that lobby the hardest.”

Green Thumb issued a statement that it has always supported patient access to legal cannabis.

“We have a history of championing patients, including leading advocacy efforts to ensure patients could access their products during the pandemic, and most recently, preserve curbside pickup services for patients,” the statement read.

The proposed measure, HB 2911, GTI said, “included language that was neither operationally viable nor comprehensive enough for what Illinois patients deserve, such as requiring patient lanes or offering delivery services. Illinois legislators recognized the concerns and will continue working on this with the goal of passing it during veto session (this fall).”

Illinois lawmakers fail again to pass hemp regulations and medical cannabis expansion (2024)
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