Illinois Lawmakers, marijuana industry call for ban on 'delta-8,' other psychoactive hemp products

Delta-8 explodes in popularity, but burgeoning cannabis industry says it's a dangerous threat

ByHANNAH MEISEL, Capitol News Illinois
Monday, April 15, 2024
Illinois lawmakers look to close Delta-8 hemp loophole
The popularity of Delta-8, a hemp byproduct often described as "marijuana light" or "diet weed," has skyrocketed recently but it is not subject to the same regulations as cannabis.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois' largest cannabis business association is pushing to ban the sale of delta-8 THC, an increasingly popular psychoactive substance that's popped up in corner stores across the country in recent years.

Please note: The video above is from a previous, related report

New legislation filed in Springfield this week revives an ongoing debate over delta-8 and other hemp-derived products, which are totally unregulated in Illinois even as the state approaches the five-year anniversary of legalizing cannabis.

For those who've been trying to break into Illinois' still-young cannabis industry, the state's inaction on delta-8 is an insult to the thousands of dollars and years of work that some business operators have put into trying to get their businesses off the ground.

"It is deeply disheartening and, frankly, a betrayal by the state to allow these shops to pop up and call themselves dispensaries," Ron Miller, a co-owner of his family-run Navada Labs and BLYSS Dispensary in Mt. Vernon, said at a Capitol news conference Thursday.

And for the industry's lead lobbying group, the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, delta-8 represents other threats, including continued reports of Americans getting sick after consuming unregulated products, and the growing efforts to market delta-8 to young people.

At that news conference, CBAI Executive Director Tiffany Ingram stood next to a table filled with delta-8-infused candy and snacks in packaging strikingly similar to the multi-national brands they were designed to imitate. In one hand, Ingram held up a bag of Fritos corn chips and a similar-looking bag of "Fritos" snacks with small cannabis leaves on it.

Additionally, Ingram said, without having to pay cannabis-related taxes or other compliance costs, delta-8 businesses are not only undercutting legitimate licensed dispensaries, but the price is also accessible to kids.

"It says on the door you can only be 21 to come in," Ingram told Capitol News Illinois of her trips to faux dispensaries in Chicago's South Loop and Uptown neighborhoods to purchase some of the delta-8 products on display at the news conference. "But no one checked my ID."

State Rep. Eva-Dina Delgado, D-Chicago, said her 15-year-old daughter has told her that delta-8 products are very accessible to her peers.

"As a parent, there is nothing more scary than to hear stories from your child about how kids are 'greening out,'" she said. "And when I asked her questions like, 'Hey, are these kids getting the supply from their parents?' ...She says, 'Oh no, we just go to the corner store.'"

In addition to selling the products at corner stores and gas stations, delta-8-focused bakeries have also become a business model in the city of Chicago, according to reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Under Senate Bill 3926, businesses caught selling delta-8 or other unregulated hemp-derived products would face a $10,000 fine. Ingram acknowledged that the threat of fines is only as good as an enforcement mechanism but said the law would at least allow the state's Department of Agriculture to investigate the businesses.

Additionally, the bill would create 50 new state licenses for legitimate cannabis dispensaries and 50 new licenses for cannabis infusers, which Ingram said could help bring entrepreneurs currently selling delta-8 into the fold. The measure would also require a state task force to study delta-8 products to ensure their safety, which Ingram characterized as more of a "pause" than an outright ban.

But those already operating in the delta-8 space said the bill would amount to an outright ban on delta-8 and other hemp-derived products.

Glenn McElfresh, a co-founder of Chicago-based hemp-derived beverage company Plift, called Thursday's news conference "very frustrating and full of inaccuracies."

"Many of the claims made today do not represent the thousands of businesses who produce or sell safe, accurately labeled, and tested products," he said.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, has been pushing for regulation of delta-8 products, warning that prohibiting them would undermine the criminal justice goals of legalizing cannabis in Illinois. Ford and state Sen. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, are pushing a pair of bills that would restrict the sale of delta-8 products to anyone under 21, along with taxing them and creating a new class of state licenses for hemp businesses.

"We don't want to regulate thousands of current businesses out of existence," Collins said in a statement. "We want regulation, not termination, when jobs and opportunity are at stake, especially in Black and brown communities."

Hemp and marijuana are both derived from cannabis plants, but hemp can only contain 0.3 percent or less THC. If it contains more THC than that, it is considered marijuana. In 2018, the annual federal "Farm Bill" made the distribution and sale of hemp and its byproducts legal federally.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.