Hemp can get you high. Illinois needs to better protect its minors

Hemp can get you high. Illinois needs to better protect its minors

Illinois' Unregulated Hemp-Derived THC Products Prompt Calls for Legislative Action.

At the National Restaurant Association trade show in Chicago a few weeks ago, attendees flocked to a booth handing out samples of a flavored seltzer with a “kick.” Wynk was drawing crowds not just by offering a refreshing drink, but also the promise of what it describes as a “light, bubbly buzz” from a psychoactive ingredient.

Wynk contains a form of THC derived from the hemp plant, which as of today is legal to sell at bars, gas stations, vape shops and other outlets prohibited by law from selling THC made of marijuana — which adults can purchase legally in Illinois only at regulated, taxed dispensaries.

The mind-bending seltzer is among a slew of hemp-derived, buzz-inducing soft drinks, beers, vapes and other products that have hit the market since federal lawmakers seeking to promote hemp farming opened the door for them in the 2018 farm bill.

As the Tribune reported on May 23, the Illinois General Assembly has been considering legislation that initially proposed outlawing products made with hemp-derived THC for two years, supposedly to buy time for formulating rules. A newer version of the legislation would allow the sale of THC products made from hemp, but only at outlets licensed to sell marijuana.

The proposed legislation has prompted an outcry from craft brewers, retailers and others who have jumped on the hemp bandwagon. They say the rules would hurt businesses employing many Illinois residents, which is likely true. They want regulations that would enable them to continue selling their products outside licensed dispensaries, while restricting sales to those 21 and older, requiring testing of the products for purity and strength, and imposing new taxes on them.

We believe it’s imperative for Illinois lawmakers to act.

These intoxicating products are available with practically no government oversight or required safety testing, and in some cases not even age restrictions.

We see room for additional compromise with the hemp dealers, and we’re mindful that anti-hemp legislation could face a serious legal challenge. But one way or another, the state must assert control. So it was disappointing to see the General Assembly take off on break before settling the issue. The cop-out in Springfield means the free-for-all is likely to continue through the summer.

This page has supported decriminalizing marijuana while taking a skeptical view of the THC bonanza underway in Illinois and elsewhere. Evidence shows that making these products legally available for recreation has significantly increased their use, including among those under 21.

The booming business amounts to a vast public-health experiment, with unknown long-term consequences for everything from mental stability to cardiovascular fitness. The widespread sale of hemp-based intoxicants is a good example of government inadvertently paving the way for products that could be hurting people.

In its natural state, hemp contains only a tiny amount of THC. After Congress got into the act, however, producers quickly learned how to concentrate the compound into a form strong enough to make its users high. In the process, pesticides, heavy metals, solvents and other contaminants also can get concentrated into it as well. That affects not only intoxicating THC products, but also buzz-free CBD made from hemp, a related product that, based on scant evidence, some producers tout as a healthy supplement.

While companies like Wynk pay for third-party testing akin to the regime followed by compliant marijuana dealers, not every hemp merchant is as responsible. That has led to reports of tainted products without adequate labeling being marketed to minors.

Another concern is that dosages can vary sharply. A recent study in the Journal of Toxicology revealed that many hemp products are being sold with THC levels that do not match the claims on their labels, and in some cases exceed the amount of THC allowed to be sold per package under Illinois’ marijuana laws.

As of now, there is nothing to stop unscrupulous hemp dealers from pumping out products that contribute to emergency-room visits and car accidents. And if you’re waiting for Congress to reverse its mistake in its next Farm Bill, you may have a long wait: The 2018 legislation was extended until September, a year past its scheduled expiration. Given the pending election and the dysfunction in Washington, it would be no surprise if nothing new gets approved until 2025 or thereafter.

Even as we’re urging state lawmakers to act, we recognize that many adult consumers enjoy hemp products and want them to be made available. But Illinois needs sensible rules to protect the public interest and especially public health.

Hemp can get you high. Illinois needs to better protect its minors.

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Region: Illinois

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