Highland Park councilmembers agreed on principle but not on process during their last meeting.
As the City Council moved to ban the sale of certain unregulated THC products, multiple councilmembers hoped for a delay in the proceedings to better understand and possibly expand the measure.
But the majority of the council said moving forward was better than not moving at all, even if more discussions are in the near future, and with a 4-2 vote, plus one abstention, the council banned tobacco retailers from selling the unregulated products to individuals under 21 years of age.
“These products are dangerous; they may not be the only ones but we’ve identified these as being really dangerous,” Councilmember Kim Stone said prior to the vote.
The approved ordinance — which does not cover state-licensed cannabis dispensaries — defines the conditionally banned items as products or materials that include synthesized THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, an active ingredient in marijuana) or are made from kratom, an herbal substance that produces stimulant-like effects. Common versions of synthesized THC include Delta-8 and Delta-10.
Neither synthesized THC nor kratom has FDA approved uses. Following thousands of reports of accidental poisonings in the last five years, per the CDC and FDA, the substances have faced bans in at least 14 states.
When Highland Park officials began discussing the zoning of tobacco and smoke shops over the summer, City Councilmembers requested more information on synthesized THC and similar products that had garnered national headlines.
City staff prepared a draft ordinance for consideration on Nov. 13 that restricted smoke shops from selling such products.
“This is to protect our community,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said while introducing the topic. “We are concerned this is a public health issue and we want to keep our kids safe from products that are unregulated and manufactured to a large extent outside of the United States.”
But Councilmember Andres Tapia felt underprepared to vote on the issue. And he was not alone on the dais.
Councilmembers Jeff Hoobler and Annette Lidawer supported Tapia’s request for a deeper review to further understand the issue, develop a larger list of banned substances and expand the ban to all retailers, not just smoke shops.
“If we’re going to be a first mover on this, then it’s more incumbent on us that we better be sure on what we are trying to do and why,” said Tapia, who added that he was under the impression the group was going to hash out more details during a committee of the whole session that never happened.
But Anthony Blumberg, Yumi Ross, Kim Stone and Rotering agreed that there was little harm in taking a first step to ban the limited items for sale at local smoke shops. The council could always go back and amend the ordinance, Stone said.
“I consider this a start to other conversations,” she said.
The voting result, 4-2 in favor, aligned with the commentary. Tapia abstained and Hoobler and Lidawer dissented.
Rotering assured her fellow councilmembers that a future conversation to move to a wider ban would be put on the calendar, and City Manager Ghinda Neukirch confirmed it will be a topic of discussion at the council’s committee of the whole session on Dec. 11.
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