Cannabis Bill Moving Forward in Springfield Restricts Sale of ‘Delta-8’ and THC, Puts Limits on CBD Products

Hemp Cafe in Chicago. (WTTW News)(WTTW News)

The Illinois hemp industry is in a frenzy over new legislation moving forward in Springfield that business owners say will put popular products out of reach and push the THC lounges and CBD shops that dot Chicago-area neighborhoods out of business.

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Starting in July, Illinois would ban the sale of any hemp-derived THC, or delta-8, from being sold, except at state-licensed cannabis dispensaries. That means those products would no longer be sold at breweries, gas stations and specialty lounges and stores. 

Non-intoxicating hemp-derived products made with extracted cannabidiol (CBD) could continue to be sold, though members of the hemp industry say limits set forth in the measure are so low that too would be impossible.

“The bill is so restrictive it would outlaw almost everything in my store,” wrote Jennifer Weiss, owner of Cubbington’s Cabinet, which makes and sells personal and pet CBD-infused products out of a shop in Ravenswood.

The bill was passed out of Senate committee Thursday night.

For backers like David Lakeman, Illinois Department of Agriculture’s cannabis division manager, the move is rooted in safety, and will “ensure the consumers can have the faith that those products that they see from Bed, Bath & Beyond to corner stores to vape shops are tested and that they are what they say they are. So if a consumer is looking to purchase a product that says that it is below a .3 % THC, they will have reasonable likelihood of actually getting a product that is below that threshold.”

Hemp has less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component in the cannabis plant that produces psychoactive affects, than marijuana. Cannabidiol, known as CBD, is a similar molecule from the cannabis plant but does not make a user high.

As such, hemp and marijuana are treated differently under state and federal law.

Recreational cannabis has been legal in Illinois since 2020, while the state has permitted the growth and processing of hemp for industrial purposes — for use as textiles or rope, for example — since 2019.

But products like CBD lotions and infused drinks and treats made with THC derived from hemp are seemingly in a legal gray area under which businesses using hemp-derived THC have proliferated. 

State Sen. Kim Lightford, D-Maywood, said that’s harming Illinois’ tightly-regulated cannabis industry and undermining the state’s goals to use the law to lift up people of color disproportionally harmed by the war on drugs. To be part of the legal marijuana industry, businesses had to compete for coveted – and expensive – licenses, with priority going to social equity applicants.

“Our effort here today is to take this current unregulated market, that undermines social equity license holders who have long worked to establish a legal well-regulated business, and move towards regulation of hemp and delta-8 products so that we can ensure that we do it in a way that is equitable and provides opportunities within the evolving industry,” Lightford said.

Those in the hemp industry suspect an ulterior motive: Protecting the marijuana industry by eliminating the competition.

“This bill would stop us in our tracks. And we’re scared that we’re going to have to lay off their employees,” said Glenn McElfresh, a co-founder of Chicago-based Plift, which sells a hemp-derived THC soda, and Perfectly Dosed, which sells a water-soluble THC emulsion.

He said if it becomes law, the proposal could lead to thousands of people losing their jobs.

“This is not something that is like a small issue,” McElfresh said. “This affects tens of thousands of Illinoisans right now. Plus the net economic impact of hemp products that are exported from the state right now.”

The hemp industry said responsible business owners recognize and want state oversight, and have offered a proposal with tax on hemp products that could help made a dent in Illinois’ need for revenue.

That measure has not advanced, and Lightford is unsympathetic.

Lightford, the sponsor of the measure (House Bill 4293), which passed out of a Senate committee Thursday night, asks of the businesses: “Why did you go into the hemp business if you wanted to sell weed?”

“They’re not licensed to sell cannabis … ,” Lightford said. “It baffles me that we’re even having a conversation about them doing illegal activity. This is an illegal activity.”

Lightford said she uses CBD-infused wellness products and believes they can help people, so is interested in ensuring they can continue to be made and sold.

But the owner of Cubbington’s Cabinet said that in setting low limits on the levels of THC that can be used, that won’t happen.

“These asks are outright impossible,” Weiss said. “Not only would it put Cubbington’s out of business, HB 4293 would actually halt consumer access to popular mainstream wellness products like CBD in Illinois.”

Complaints like that have a sympathetic ear within the legislature, including from state Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Democrat from Chicago, who said he’ll work to stop it from going into law.

Should he succeed, that would leave Illinois in the same position it’s been throughout years of debate over how to handle hemp products: Without regulation, which advocates on both sides say allows bad actors to make and market untested, sometimes dangerous intoxicating products accessible to youth.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky[email protected]

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