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Hemp regulation law advances, craft brewers warn of small business harm

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(The Center Square) – House Bill 4293, which originally dealt with penalties for sex offenders in the massage therapy industry, was gutted and replaced with a bill regulating cannabinoids from hemp.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, said, in a Senate executive committee hearing, that hemp producers cross a line when they synthesize hemp to create Delta 8 and Delta 9. Advocates argue that consumers are beings deceived when it comes to THC levels in synthetic hemp products. Lightford said hemp producers aren’t licensed and they are participating in illegal activity.

“They are not licensed to participate in the cannabis act whatsoever. It baffles me that we’re even having a conversation around them doing illegal activity,” said Lightford. “This is what many Black and brown folks went to jail for for generations. That’s why expungement was so heavy in the Cannabis Act. Now we’re allowing people to rent out a storefront and pop with their hemp and that’s fine, I use the lotion, but when they alter and chemically modify hemp in order to generate more potent products than traditional cannabis products.”

The Department of Agriculture supported the bill and said they want to ensure the cannabis industry is equitable, well-regulated and safe.

Opponents said the bill will devastate Illinois hemp farmers and black and brown communities. Opponents said the bill will outright ban the hemp industry. The opponents agree hemp should be regulated to where children do not have access to products. Glenn McElfresh, from Perfectly Dosed, said he’s scared for his company, employees and community.

“Dozens of local brewers were closing up [in the state] until they started making hemp beverages. This simple act has allowed them to pay their employees fair wages. A de facto ban like this is rushed and will have a disastrous impact on our state. A ban like this doesn’t make communities safer; it creates an illicit market and encourages bad actors,” said McElfresh.

He urged legislators Thursday to take time in the summer and include stakeholders when regulating hemp products.

The committee chairman, State Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, said she didn’t call up the opponent from the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, Brent Schwoerer, who came to a Senate executive committee hearing to voice his concern about HB 4293.

The bill, according to opponents, seeks to ban hemp beverages and regulate hemp products. Schwoerer, unknowingly came up to oppose the bill at the wrong time, and Castro said ‘I need you back.’ Schwoerer complied, but when she did finally call on him to oppose he said the brewing industry has not recovered from the pandemic and that hemp beverages are helping to diversify and in some cases the drinks are a lifeline.

“More than 40 Illinois breweries have closed their doors in the last 24 months. The latest to close was the Lagunitas Brewing facility in Chicago,” said Schwoerer. “Jobs will be going with them. I urge you to slow down and open discussions on this topic [of regulation.] Why are we rushing legislation that only benefits a few? Believe it or not, Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois and the brewers stand united against this amendment and that’s saying something.”

Schwoerer said the banning of brewers’ ability to manufacture hemp beverages will kill small businesses and will only benefit a few big, out-of-state corporations.

Castro decided to correct the constituent from Springfield. Castro clarified that Heineken bought Lagunitas out.

“Lagunitas got bought out by Heineken, so they weren’t technically a craft brewer anymore, they were owned by big beer,” said Castro. “So you lost me there.”

Lightford, the day before the session deadline, amended a bill that initially dealt with penalties for sex offenders and passed the House, said the craft brewers were last minute.

“Their last minute with their request. We’ve been having these conversations for a couple of years,” said Lightford.

Castro asked Lightford if the brewers were selling an illegal product and Lightford said ‘that’s safe to say.’

“You [Schwoerer] can’t come last minute, it sounds like the leader [Lightford] is willing to have future conversations, but what this bill does…it addresses a very serious situation that’s happening right now,” said Castro.

“I know we can absolutely without a doubt can’t get into the retailer space because it becomes too dynamic to manage,” said Lightford.

In April Lighford introduced the Hemp Consumer Products Act through Senate Bill 3926, that measure remains in committee.

Similarly, House Bill 4193 is a different version of the Hemp Consumer Products Act that Schwoerer said he was in favor of.

SB4293 passed out of the committee and goes to the House for concurrence.

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