When Separate Equals Hungry

A 2-part feature exploring food insecurity.

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Hemp Hemp Hooray….no

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:By Barbetorte - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7558724

The U.S. Farm Bill in 2018 made industrial hemp fully federally legal. The farming community celebrated this with hopes of increasing profits with the newly decriminalized agricultural commodity.  Black farmers reportedly were looking to cash in big on the crop. Farming, however, is a volatile and heavily subsidized industry in and of itself. Land affordability, lack of access to capital and brokers for identifying end buyers inhibits profitability. Land values have increased in 2022 according to a U. S. Department of Agriculture report. Farming isn’t cheap, Illinois is the 5th most expensive state for cropland the average Illinois farmer pays $243 per acre. It also isn’t diverse, no more than 6% of the13,102 respondents of the 2022 survey reported being Black. With such small numbers of primary producers, it is necessary to reflect on just how profitable hemp farming is or can be for contributing to the economic growth of the Black economy.

A ban or legislation controlling Delta-8 THC has mustered up entrepreneurs concerns about Illinois’ fledgling hemp economy and supply chain. A ban on delta-8 could inherently put some people out of business. Not much is known about Illinois delta-8 THC sales from reputable and law abiding businesses. “Lawmakers didn’t address Delta-8 THC until MSO’s put it on lawmaker’s radar telling them kids were getting sick. It wasn’t until recently when news reports surfaced about kids getting sick that there was some interest. Lawmakers had more than enough time to initiate discussions and ask questions about regulating Delta-8 THC,” said Doug Kelly Executive Director of Cannabis Equity Coalition Illinois. Kelly like others in the state assert the infusion of hemp into the final days of cannabis equity legislation was strategic and used to derail the cannabis bill, which appears to have worked.
In a May Chicago Tribune article state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (was reported saying “This is the wild West, we don’t know what they’re selling, and somebody is going to die,” referencing the harms of unregulated delta-8 THC on Illinois store shelves. Interestingly enough the DEA announced in February of 2023 that Delta-8 THCO, the synthetically altered compound does not classify as hemp and is a schedule 1 drug. In May of 2019 Rep. Cassidy responded via email to a reporter the following: “cannabis should be sold in venues that are highly regulated, taking the pot market out of the shadows. In states that have legalized, you see steady decreases in youth use if you do it right,” she said in THE POLITIFACT article.  Has Illinois gotten it right? It is a resounding no from the entire cannabis community on the hemp and marijuana side.
“We were definitely concerned about the DEA’s ruling in February of this year,” shared Dr. Mohammad Lofty, co owner of Wake N Bakery, Chicago’s original cannabis infused bakery and coffee shop. He and Brianna Banks have grown their business after the federal legalization of hemp derivatives in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. “We employ about 50 people and have just opened a new location at 38 E. Ontario. Our products are safe and lab tested, consumer quality is our top concern,” shared the medical doctor and researcher.  Dr. Lofty points out that a single test for a product can cost as much as $1000 for a single batch depending on the details you wish for, but he also pointed out there is no regulatory framework that protects consumers. “We have gone above and beyond what the state requires, for example ,you MUST be 21 to consume our products and there is a maximum dosage we implanted as well,” he shared.
Brianna an active member of Women In Cannabis, echoed her concern about lawmakers’ conversations of banning Delta-8 THC, “we both want to see this industry grow and be part of the industry that educates people about the benefits of hemp.” Banks and Lofty currently employ 50 people across their three locations and are looking to employ another 60 with the hopes of three more store openings in the near future. “We both hope to provide more jobs. The average employ doesn’t make less than $20/hr and we are pushing to keep this industry open and accessible to support job growth, but we can’t do that if the laws keep changing in ways that makes that hard,” she said.
Kaylee Hoogkark founder of Midwest Hemp Coalition wasn’t surprised how Delta-8 THC was weaponized recently and shared how hemp derived cannabinoids have been under attack for some time. “The initial intent of the CBD Safety Act was under the guise of consumer safety championed by Bob Morgan (D - Deerfield). What I don’t want to see is over regulation without scientific backing of risks or decisions being made out of fear,” said Hoogkark There is a dearth of information available to the public on federal hemp laws on the Illinois Department of Agricultures website. Even if one wished to become educated on the state of Delta - 8 THC and how the state is addressing it there is not up to date summary nor links to information from the USDA or DEA. There also is no report on the existing state of hemp companies that sell Delta. - 8 THC products, leaving lawmakers in the dark on the current economic impact and business norms practiced by small businesses.

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About Author:

Dr. Mila Marshall is an environmental professional and journalist with a passion for advancing sustainability in all sectors. Her passion is directed towards urban food systems in segregated cities.



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