McHenry Co. state’s attorney threatens to sue marijuana dispensaries that don’t post mental health warnings

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said he will file lawsuits against dispensaries that don’t comply

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally (center) talks with assistant state's attorneys Maria Marek (left) and Hunter Jones (right) Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, about changes implemented as a result of the SAFE-T Act at their office in the McHenry County Government Center in Woodstock.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally warned the county’s marijuana dispensaries on Friday that his office will sue those that don’t prominently post mental health warnings in their facilities.

Kenneally, a Republican, made his shot across the bow at the marijuana industry via a statement released Friday published in conjunction with a news release from his office.

“McHenry County cannabis dispensaries will be required to warn customers of the mental health dangers associated with use, including psychosis, depression and suicidal ideation, as part of a settlement,” Kenneally said in the release.

In an emailed response to questions, Kenneally lashed out at the industry and Illinois officials for not taking enforcement actions against dispensaries that make health claims about their products. He said there are health risks associated with marijuana use, and state regulatory agencies have not sufficiently warned consumers about marijuana.

“As such, it has fallen to local government agencies to protect consumers,” the statement read.

Kenneally’s suggested language for these warnings includes a statement that the Food and Drug Administration has never approved marijuana-based pharmaceuticals, although three FDA-approved drugs are on the market.

Kenneally also indicated that an agreement was reached with dispensary owners to “scrub their marketing and websites of any suggestion that their products have medical benefits. They agreed to these consumer protections as part of a settlement with the McHenry County state’s attorney.”

Although Kenneally initially declined to say which marijuana dispensaries he’d come to agreements with, he later clarified that agreements have been reached with dispensaries that have been open longer. In McHenry County, that would be RISE Lake in the Hills and Ivy Hall in Crystal Lake.

Attempts to reach Ivy Hall were unsuccessful.

A spokeswoman for RISE did not respond to questions about the settlement but said in a statement: “With the [U.S.] Department of Health and Human Services’ recent announcement affirming their stance that cannabis has medical utility, coupled with the overwhelming majority of Americans who support cannabis legalization for medicinal and wellness purposes, we look forward to advancing the fight against the stigma around cannabis that has haunted our country for decades.”

Management at the two other dispensaries now operating in the county said they were unaware of any agreement or request from the state’s attorney to do so.

Anthony Rein, development director at Vertical Dispensary in Cary – which is set for a grand opening Sept. 30 – said he received a letter putting the business on notice regarding what it can say about marijuana use, but he said he had not yet responded to the letter.

Vertical “has a strict policy prohibiting any claims that could be considered deceptive or a potential violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act,” Rein wrote in a prepared response. “We understand the concern around advertising that promotes overconsumption of cannabis or makes any health, medical or therapeutic claims.

“In our opinion, examples of promoting overconsumption and/or therapeutic claims would include any statement that cannabis product is medicine or treats, alleviates, helps with, is good for, or is used by those with a medical or emotional condition.”

Zachary Zises, one of the principals at Richmond’s Spark’d dispensary, which opened in August, said he has never received communication from Kenneally.

Additional signage “wasn’t a condition of the license from the state or the special-use [permit] from the village. We have not received direct communication from the state’s attorney or any other government entity,” Zises said.

Spark’d also is expected to open a dispensary in Crystal Lake later this year.

Kenneally indicated that he soon would subpoena Spark’d and Vertical to begin negotiations with those dispensary owners.

Illinois began allowing people with qualifying conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes 10 years ago before legalizing recreational marijuana as of Jan. 1, 2020. Since then, marijuana dispensaries have proliferated across the state.

Last year, Illinois tallied more than $1.5 billion in marijuana sales, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The sales translated to $445.3 million in total tax, with local governments throughout the state receiving about $146.2 million in marijuana tax disbursements, according to Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s office.

From January through April, Illinois saw more than $515 million in adult-use marijuana sales, according to the IDFPR.

McHenry County has marijuana dispensaries in Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake, Cary and Richmond, with more expected by the end of the year.

Kenneally said dispensaries in McHenry County will be required to post “prominent and conspicuous signage warnings” or face litigation from his office.

The warnings should read: “WARNING: Cannabis use may contribute to mental health problems, including psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, increased thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts, anxiety, and depression. Risk is greatest for frequent users.”

Another notice, according to Kenneally’s office, should read: “WARNING: The FDA has not approved cannabis for the treatment of any disease or medical condition.”

However, the FDA has approved three drugs derived from marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. THC-based medications dronabinol and nabilone are “prescribed in pill form for the treatment of nausea in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS,” and CBD-based liquid medication Epidiolex is approved for treating two forms of severe childhood epilepsy.

Kenneally wrote in his emailed response that he did not know about the two THC-based medications, but said that “means very little. Cannabis treats pain the same way alcohol treats pain – one gets high and it doesn’t hurt so bad.”

Kenneally said Epidiolex, the CBD liquid medication extracted from marijuana, also is not cannabis.

“It’s a single cannabinoid isolated from cannabis,” he said.

He went on to list the conditions with which an Illinois resident can request a medical marijuana card. The list, he wrote, “is a total lie and not based on any science that the Illinois Legislature (not a medical body) has approved as a prescription marijuana.”

Allison Kranich, a licensed clinical counselor at Northwestern Medicine in McHenry, said whether the use of marijuana leads to addiction, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or other mental health issues depends on a person’s environment and whether they are predisposed to such conditions.

“It is not as cut and dry for marijuana, but there is good evidence to show that if you are already struggling, if you have genetic factors, if you are in an environment that is stressful or if you have a history of trauma, you can worsen your symptoms if you use marijuana,” she said. “You do have to be careful.”

At least one McHenry County mental health advocate said that although he respects the position taken by the state’s attorney’s office and knows the potential dangers of marijuana use, it is not the only product that can injure users.

“Should we see these warnings and disclaimers tied to any and all products that pose a danger to ourselves or the public if used in a bad way? The internet? Social media? Liquor stores? Gun shops? Bars and restaurants? Just a thought for conversation moving forward,” Rob Mutert of Woodstock-based Warp Corps said.

He said although he thinks a general warning is part of the necessary education about marijuana, “I also support these products finally being legal and consenting adults have the freedom of choice in America. And we need to protect this freedom.”

Northwest Herald reporter Amanda Marrazzo contributed to this report.