Cannabis confusion: Knowing the difference between regulated weed stores and unregulated CBD shops

Regulated dispensaries like the River North Sunnyside store are not happy about new unregulated shops, a spokesperson said.

Jason Knowles Image
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
How are regulated weed stores and unregulated CBD shops different?
Amid confusing marketing tactics, here's how to know the difference between a regulated weed dispensary and an unregulated CBD shop.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I- Team has been investigating the differences between "unregulated" CBD stores and "regulated" pot stores.

Some critics of unregulated stores believe signs and advertising may be misleading and confusing to customers.

Consumer Investigator Jason Knowles has tips to help you spot the differences as you shop.

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Recreational cannabis became legal in Illinois in 2020. Since then, dozens of state regulated stores have opened up all over the area, all of them with high security.

But there may be come cannabis confusion. There are CBD shops now selling products made from hemp, and have little regulation.

"It's definitely frustrating, I'm sure for like, newer customers," said Michael Yourg.

Yourg said he prefers to buy his pot at a regulated, state-licensed cannabis dispensary because, there, he said, he knows exactly what he's getting.

"Calling yourself a dispensary comes with a lot of scrutiny. You know, from background checks to security, to product testing, and quality and purity. There's a lot of trust that comes with that name," he said.

Sunnyside Spokesperson Jason Erkes said regulated dispensaries like the Sunnyside store in River North are not happy about dozens of new unregulated CBD stores opening up.

The stores don't sell marijuana and aren't regulated because they sell products made from hemp, a plant cousin of marijuana. They're supposed to have less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. Some stores also sell "delta 8," which is a synthetic THC.

But with no testing standards, critics have said some products could be stronger than you think and that some CBD storefronts have misleading signage.

"I definitely think consumers are confused. I mean, there are two businesses that are calling themselves the exact same thing. One comes with quality and purity and potency and a level of undeniable scrutiny and one just gets to open up and put a sign up. There's a big difference," Erkes said.

There are currently 110 regulated and licensed dispensaries in Illinois and 185 more on the way. Those businesses go through a strict vetting process. State law says a "dispensary" means a facility operated by a dispensing organization at which activities are licensed. The state also says "cannabis-derived substances are to be regulated under the Industrial Hemp Act."

But dozens of unregulated CBD stores are advertising and marketing themselves, using the "dispensary" name and the words "cannabis dispensary"

2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins weighed in on the issue.

"You can't falsely advertise product A when you're really selling product B," he said. "They're trying to make you think you can come in there and get a cannabis product that was grown in a certified laboratory under sterile conditions, regulated properly."

Hopkins is also concerned about people consuming the unregulated versions and not being certain about how much they are getting.

He recently introduced an ordinance saying no one can use the words "dispensary" or "cannabis dispensary" unless the store is licensed by the state. It also says unlicensed stores should not use the image of a cannabis leaf or bud.

"These places started popping up and putting signs in their window to suggest that they were a cannabis dispensary when the first we hear about it is the day they opened for business. That's unacceptable," he said.

The I-Team stopped by two unregulated CBD stores. Managers did not want to talk about the criticism. However, some consumers see the benefits.

"Younger people, they prefer to go to unregulated places. It's cheaper," said Rabbe Nesbit.

If you're a consumer and you want to make sure you're at a licensed dispensary here's how:

A state regulated dispensary will always have security in the front of the store or outside.

"When you walk into a regular dispensary, you're getting your ID scanned into the system to make sure they know your age and that you can buy and you can you can tell the by heightened sense of security and awareness that you are inside a regulated store," Erkes said.

In a regulated store, you can't touch the product until you pay. Plus, you will also have to use cash or a debit card, not a credit card.

The Better Business Bureau also said it is fielding complaints from consumers who are trying to navigate.

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"So, a lot of times consumers come to us confused. And this type of advertisement would only confuse them more so than before." said Steve Bernas, president of the Chicago area Better Business Bureau.

The Illinois Attorney General is also monitoring the issue and encouraging consumers who feel they have been misled to file a complaint.

The ordinance which would add advertising and language rules to CBD stores is in its beginning stages, but could go to a full council vote in the next several weeks.