Why Wheeling is banning unlicensed sale of synthetic pot

Selling unlicensed, cannabis-like products soon will be illegal in Wheeling.

A divided village board this week approved a ban on the sale of synthetically derived versions of THC, the high-inducing compound found in cannabis.

Some suburban convenience stores, gas stations and other shops sell synthetic cannabis even though they're not licensed to sell cannabis products. Anyone legally can buy the products, regardless of age.

Safety concerns have arisen because the products' contents and production are unregulated, and they've been linked to consumer illnesses.

"A lot is unknown about the chemicals that go into these synthetically derived THC products," Village Attorney James Ferolo said during Monday's board meeting. "It's kind of the Wild West, quite frankly."

Trustee Ray Lang called the products "unlicensed garbage."

Wheeling's new ordinance outlaws the unlicensed sale, advertisement, display or delivery of such products. Fines will start at $500, and business licenses could be revoked.

The ban goes into effect Jan. 1. The delay gives affected business owners and employees time to learn the rules and cease selling them, Ferolo said.

State-licensed cannabis dispensaries, including the two now operating in Wheeling, are exempt from the ordinance.

The village board enacted a similar ban in 2012. A new ordinance is needed because a 2018 federal farm bill legalized selling hemp-derived products with small amounts of THC, Ferolo said.

Additionally, Illinois lawmakers voted to legalize cannabis sales and possession, with restrictions, in 2019.

Between four and seven Wheeling businesses currently sell the products targeted by the ordinance, Police Chief Jamie Dunne said.

The village will notify those businesses of the new ordinance.

Trustee Joe Vito cast the lone vote against the proposal Monday. Before the vote, he objected to banning the sale of products legal under federal law while allowing cannabis dispensaries in town despite cannabis sales and possession being illegal under federal law.

"We are now going to criminalize something that's actually technically legal, while we have two pot shops in town that are technically illegal," Vito said.

But that statement was inaccurate. States can legalize cannabis sales for medical or recreational uses, and many - including Illinois - have.

Officials discussed potentially allowing people 21 or older to buy such products, but that proposal didn't gain steam.

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