To protect children, Illinois must crack down on products with dangerous delta-8

Hemp products like edibles and flowers are not subject to the strict testing requirements of recreational cannabis.

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During a school day last May, parents of five students at Chicago Uplift High School received an alarming phone call: Their children had been transported to the hospital after experiencing negative side effects from consuming unregulated gummies that may have contained delta-8 THC.

It’s a scenario that has repeated itself numerous times across the state and the country, with many schoolchildren sickened by these pervasive, unlicensed products.

A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than 11% of high school seniors report using delta-8, which is legal in Illinois and many other states due to a loophole in the 2018 farm bill, which legalized hemp.

Because of this loophole in federal law, hemp products, including synthetic THC intoxicants like delta-8, don’t face the same strict regulations that govern the sale of cannabis products at dispensaries licensed by the state of Illinois.

While synthetic THC intoxicants like delta-8 products are derived from hemp, they are altered with additives and chemicals to heighten their intoxicating effect, and yet face no oversight or testing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that delta-8 can contain unsafe chemicals and harmful substances. There are no age requirements for buying these products and no rules for where stores selling Delta-8 can be located, meaning products containing intoxicants are being sold in gas stations, smoke shops, bakeries and mini-marts near schools. There are no packaging requirements, so products containing delta-8 can look nearly identical to a package of candy or a bag of chips.

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To protect children and consumers of all ages, Illinois lawmakers must pass the bipartisan Hemp Consumer Products Act to pause the sale of synthetic THC intoxicants and create a regulatory structure for other consumer hemp products, such as CBD. This will allow businesses to continue to sell the safe hemp products many consumers rely on, while preventing access to synthetic THC intoxicants that pose a danger to our communities, until further study.

Unregulated market undermines safe dispensaries

Dispensaries regulated by the state have gone through countless steps to ensure they are operating safely, including an intense application process and monthly inspections. They adhere to rules and regulations, including product quality control and testing, a strict ban on sales to anyone under 18 years of age, and numerous zoning guidelines including those that prohibit dispensaries from opening next to schools.

This unregulated market directly undermines social equity license holders who worked for so long to establish their dispensaries as legal, well-regulated businesses. Newly-opened dispensaries are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to competing with retailers that sell synthesized THC intoxicants due to the expensive nature of licensing and taxes.

Regulating the sale of hemp will create a clear distinction between consumer hemp products that have been vetted for use by consumers and synthetic THC intoxicants that are concocted without oversight. This will not only empower consumers, giving them certainty about dosage and ingredients, but also protect children from accessing products that will make them sick.

Illinois’ cannabis laws were thoughtfully crafted and debated for years. Indeed, the state’s adult-use cannabis program is still ramping up, with more than 200 social equity licensees that have been issued licenses to open regulated stores. These applicants followed the rules, investing time, talent and resources to ensure they can operate in a safe, legal manner.

The same deliberate and careful approach must be taken to regulate hemp products throughout Illinois, especially those that pose a threat to the health and safety of our communities. These products were never intended to be freely sold to children at pop-up shops, street fests, bakeries and corner stores.

We can no longer ignore this problem. The time to act is now.

Tiffany Chappell Ingram is executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois.

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