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Pritzker defends regulating hemp products despite stalled bill

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(The Center Square) – The sponsor of a measure to regulate Illinois’ hemp industry says children are overdosing on cannabinoid products derived from hemp and it needs to be regulated. A measure to do that has stalled.

Some legislators who raised concerns about House Bill 4293 say the it will effectively ban CBD products in Illinois. Those in the hemp industry say it’s impossible to create products at a THC potency level that doesn’t exceed 0.3%.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said on the Senate floor that hemp has been chemically modified to become more potent than traditional cannabis products. The measure passed there 54-1. The House never brought up the Senate’s amendments for concurrence before adjourning early Wednesday.

Despite the bill’s status, Gov. J.B. Pritzker expressed support for the idea of regulating hemp products.

“I really believe we need to step back and ask, ‘what is in the best interest of the health of kids and adults across the state?’ I think regulating it is proper,” Pritzker said Wednesday at a post-session news conference.

Like those in the hemp industry, state Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, raised concerns about the strict mandate where hemp businesses can’t create products with anything higher than a 0.3% THC level.

“They [those in the hemp industry] don’t believe it’s intoxicating and they don’t want it to be intoxicating but they fear they may get caught up in whether it’s considered intoxicating or not at this 0.3%. I know that as we go forward we will continue to look at that because I think we all agree that both of these industries [the hemp industry and cannabis industry] need to continue in Illinois,” said Tracy, who ultimately voted “yes” on the bill.

“If you want to sell weed then get into the weed business,” Lightford said in a Senate committee hearing.

State Sen. Willie Preston, D-Chicago, was the only senator who voted “no.” Preston said he is concerned that the bill will harm small businesses.

“As a father, I don’t think children should be allowed to purchase this product in its current form. What concerns me is that this bill is going to hurt businesses across the state. This is going to hurt hemp farmers and retailers, and this is their main product line. I believe there is an opportunity for us to move a responsible piece of legislation that regulates hemp,” Preston said when urging a “no” vote on the Senate floor. “Many of these storefront shops are popping up throughout my district … we are seeing more economic activity.”

Hemp industry members say they want regulation and they think the tax that comes with regulation would be beneficial for the state, but they’re worried Lightford’s bill will impose mandates that cause the industry to shy away from creating CBD products altogether.

Lightford said on the Senate floor the legislature can’t deny that parents across the state are getting calls that their children have consumed Delta-8 THC.

“In fact last year, there were multiple instances of school children in hospitals displaying overdose symptoms from the ingestion of THC,” said Lightford.

Lightford mentioned five students from Uplift Community High School going to the hospital after taking marijuana gummies she said came from a hemp retailer.

Pritzker was asked about the bill that ultimately didn’t make it to the House floor for concurrence and will not be heading to his desk for further action.

“I believe an unregulated product like this, which clearly has caused some health problems, ought to be regulated by the state,” said Pritzker. “It’s clear it’s not for medicinal purposes, it’s not regulated the way cannabis is and there’s no restriction on who gets it.”

State Sen. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, asked about the licensing process and expressed concerns about the time frame in which hemp industry members would have obtained their license. Collins said she wouldn’t vote “no” because the legislature has a responsibility to protect young people from deceptive practices.

“I am all for regulation and making sure we know what’s in the [hemp] products, [accurate] labeling, the age and potency,” said Collins. “I know in my district there’s retailers that ID people and labeling doesn’t look like the label I see in the gas stations. There are folks that feel their businesses are going to be closed down because of the short timeframe to get their license. I know we have to protect our young people.”

The legislature adjourned for the summer and is not expected back until fall veto session.

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