One county official in Illinois issued a recent dispensary rule change that leaders say isn’t backed by science and goes too far. McHenry County, Illinois, will require dispensaries to label cannabis with mental health warnings about the potential for psychosis, depression, and suicidal ideation.
The county’s new approach was spearheaded by the county’s state’s attorney who has long-held a belief that cannabis laws are destroying the country—an opinion not shared by the Illinois Cannabis Regulation Oversight Office and four state lawmakers who felt prompted to rebuke his claims in a joint statement.
Axios reports that starting this month, McHenry County-based dispensaries will be required to post in-store signage warning of cananbis’s potential link to “psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, increased thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts, anxiety, and depression.”
In an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune, the county State’s Attorney dismissed the medical benefits of cannabis, saying that cannabis does more harm than good and leads to suicide.
“Cannabis dispensaries in McHenry County will now be the first in the country to warn customers through in-store signage of the mental health dangers associated with cannabis use, which include psychosis, depression, and suicidal ideation,” McHenry County state’s attorney Patrick Kenneally wrote.
“Dispensaries will also be required to scrub their marketing and websites of any suggestion that their products have medical benefits,” Kenneally continued. “They agreed to these consumer protections as part of a settlement with the McHenry County state’s attorney’s office in lieu of a consumer fraud action.
“Dispensaries that have refused to warn consumers will face litigation,” he warned. Those that don’t comply will face threats of consumer fraud suits from Kenneally himself.
Conflating Data and Correlation Without Causation
Kenneally joined the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office in 2007 as an assistant state’s attorney. The conservative Republican cited a record-high number of suicides in the 2022 McHenry County Coroner’s Office Report, authored by Dr. Michael R. Rein, D.C. There were 45 suicides recorded in the county that year.
Kenneally linked those suicides to cannabis: “About half our recent homicides involve cannabis or cannabis-induced psychosis, [and] cases of driving while under the influence of cannabis have doubled,” he wrote.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cited studies have linked cannabis use to depression and anxiety, but to be clear they admit that it’s unknown “if marijuana use is the cause of these conditions.”
State officials completely disagree with Kenneally’s stance. “Legalizing adult-use cannabis has always been about justice, safety, and equity in Illinois. The governor is disappointed to learn that the McHenry County state’s attorney prefers focusing on spreading disinformation instead of tackling the issues that actually keep residents safe,” the Illinois Cannabis Regulation Oversight Office told Axios.
Kenneally alleges that Illinois officials the dangers of pot in order to protect the flow of cannabis tax revenue. “In furtherance of its strategy, dispensaries have appropriated the scientific lexicon to create their own fraudulent field of medicine, such that one no longer does a ‘bong rip’ but rather receives a specific “dose” measured to the milligram by the cashier.”
Kenneally said McHenry County called “balderdash” on the “pseudoscience” behind medical cannabis. For Illinois’s 219,926 medical cannabis patients, as of 2022, they might tend to disagree. Qualified patients in the state are allowed to possess two and a half ounces of cannabis during every 14-day period.
Illinois Lawmakers Respond to Kenneally’s Claims
Four current and former Illinois state lawmakers responded to the Chicago Tribune op-ed with a stinging rebuke:
“Kenneally takes another swing from the [Harry] Anslinger playbook,” wrote Rep. Kelly Cassidy
Speaker Pro Tempore Jehan Gordon-Booth, former Sen. Toi Hutchinson, and former Sen. Heather Steans. “In an announcement that he will force state-licensed cannabis dispensaries in McHenry County to post unscientific warnings to consumers about cannabis, Kenneally claims “half of the county’s recent homicides involve cannabis or cannabis-induced psychosis.”
“Like Anslinger a century before him, Kenneally’s connection of cannabis consumption to these tragedies is unexplained,” the four lawmakers continued. “In a meandering editorial, Kenneally carelessly conflates cannabis use with the most complex societal issues that our own Illinois researchers, institutions, and community leaders work collectively every day to further understand and improve upon. To the McHenry State’s Attorney, the tragedies of violent crime, addiction, mental illness, and suicide can be narrowed down to one oversimplified, unbelievably obvious common denominator—they’re all a bunch of pot users.”
Illinois—like several other states with adult-use cannabis—already require different health warning labels for cannabis, showing potential harms in a similar manner to nicotine warnings on cigarettes.
In California, a bill last year to mandate cannabis labels warning of potential mental health risks didn’t pass.