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Changing the Narrative: Protecting Illinois’ Hemp Industry from Misguided Legislation

In recent months, fear-mongering surrounding hemp cannabinoid products has escalated in Illinois. Anecdotes of minors being hospitalized have been amplified, despite the reality that there have been hardly any adverse reactions reported. Over the past six years, billions of doses of hemp products have been consumed safely nationwide. The real story here is not about public health crises but about the aggressive maneuvers of marijuana operators who are influencing politicians to deliver them a monopoly on the hemp market, limiting products and access for everyone else.

HB4293 was the latest attempt in a years long saga by the marijuana industry to shut down the competition. Senate leadership did not seek appropriate feedback from industry stakeholders and applied heavy pressure on their colleagues to pass this bill without a thorough understanding of its details. The bill's arbitrary definitions and nearly impossible compliance requirements for hemp producers paired with strict civil and criminal penalties for violations demonstrated a clear anti-competitive stance. In short, HB4293 was poison to the hemp industry and damaging to the reputations of the senators who supported it without comprehending its implications.

The Illinois hemp community was quick to join in opposition of this gut and replace attempt.

Understanding of hemp and marijuana issues among state legislators needs significant improvement, especially among members of the Illinois Senate. Only one senator stood up for the hemp industry when it came time to vote, while 54 voted to dismantle it. This lack of informed decision-making is concerning and highlights the need for better education and advocacy within the legislative process.

Leader Lightford employed a gut and replace tactic to rush through HB4293. This tactic involves taking an existing bill, often one already approved by committees or a legislative house, stripping its contents, and inserting unrelated language. This eleventh-hour strategy circumvents the usual legislative process, allowing for the passage of bills that have failed or were not brought up to increase their chances of success.

Often abused by special interests, gut and replace bypasses public review and scrutiny. By using gut and replace to push HB4293, Lightford attempted to evade debate on a bill that would have shut down small businesses, restricted many existing products, reduced consumer access, jeopardized family farms, and hindered important research. Gut and replace is anti-democratic and defies the intent of the Constitution of the State of Illinois.

On Tuesday May 28th, 2024 the House of Representatives concluded the spring legislative session. Illinois Hemp Growers Association members were there that day rallying in opposition of HB4293 and continuing our longstanding grassroots efforts to engage with legislators. Representatives were downright relieved to see us and intensely curious about the details of the bill.

At the start of the day, the bill stood on the schedule as awaiting a concurrence vote from the House floor. Fortunately, after many productive meetings throughout the day, the lack of Senate engagement with stakeholders in crafting the bill became evident to our Representatives in the House. HB4293 was subsequently abandoned by many of the original House sponsors. The bill was then assigned to the House Rules Committee late in the day, signaling its likely failure in light of the ongoing marathon of budget work.

This outcome is a victory for the Illinois hemp industry, preserving the rights granted under the federal farm bill. Since 2018, hemp cultivators and processors have relied on the legal framework established by this bill. The defeat of HB4293 marks the closest Illinois has come to completely overturning the laws regulating hemp cultivation and processing in the state.

While this is a win, there is more work to be done. We expect to participate in conversations this summer to solidify united support behind three key pillars: proof of purity and potency, packaging and labeling standards, and simple 21+ age gating. These universally agreeable measures aim to ensure product safety and consumer confidence while maintaining access to beneficial hemp products.

The narrative around hemp products needs to move from fear and misinformation to highlighting their benefits and supporting Illinois' hemp industry. Small businesses, family farms, and research institutions will continue to thrive with fair regulations.

Legislators in Illinois must recognize the established hemp industry's value to our economy and communities. By helping lawmakers in Springfield understand hemp products and engage with stakeholders, together we can create regulations that foster innovation, safety, and access. The hemp industry is willing and able to lead the way to a better legislative environment for everyone in Illinois.

Is the General Assembly willing to let us take the lead?


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