On September 24, Massachusetts became the first state to ban the sale of cannabis oil vape products, declaring a "public health emergency" as a response to eight deaths from tainted vaporizer cartridges in the U.S. over the last month.
The ban on both marijuana and tobacco vape products will last through January 25, 2020.
“The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people,” Governor Charlie Baker stated. “The purpose of this public health emergency is to temporarily pause all sales of vaping products so that we can work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents.”
Massachusetts is one of 11 states in the U.S. with a legal, regulated marijuana market. There are currently 58 retail locations operating in the state. All cannabis products are tested for toxins and pesticides. Of concern is the addition of diluents like vitamin E acetate to oils that are loaded into cartridges and heated using a simple battery. The devices are known as vape pens.
"This is an unfortunate overreaction to a public health concern that few people seem to really understand," Kris Krane, president of 4Front Ventures, which operates retail marijuana stores in Georgetown and Worchester, tells CelebStoner. "The real tragedy here is that, while the governor was undoubtedly well meaning in trying to address the issue, this action may exacerbate the problem by driving consumers and patients to the illicit market to get their vape cartridges. As far as we can tell, the overwhelming majority of vape-related illnesses come from unregulated illicit market products, not from those produced in the highly regulated state legal industry.
"The real tragedy here is this action may exacerbate the problem by driving consumers and patients to the illicit market to get their vape cartridges."
"Legal markets are much better equipped to handle this by banning companies from using any kind of cutting or thickening agents, testing products, site inspections and all the other tools at the disposal of regulators," he continues. "Companies have a strong incentive to comply, because not doing so can result in fines, product recalls, loss of revenue or even license revocation. Illicit market cartridge manufacturers do not have to abide by any of these rules and regulations. But unfortunately, thanks to this ban, those will be the only vape products available to Massachusetts patients and consumers for at least the next four months."
Krane says he's "a bit surprised at how quickly this became an issue. But it is not surprising that bootleg and counterfeit cartridges are causing health problems. Illicit market cartridge manufacturers have an incentive to use cutting agents to increase profit margins and to use thickeners like vitamin E acetate to mask the poor quality of their oil. The additives that seem to be causing these illnesses are far more common among the bootleg cartridges than they are in the heavily regulated legal markets, where consumers have largely been demanding unadulterated oils for the past few years."
"There’s a reason cartridges make up anywhere from 30% to 50% of sales in many dispensaries. I don’t see this reversing that trend."
As a result of the governor's decision, Krane predicts there will be a "movement back to flower, but I don’t think people will abandon cannabis vaping altogether. Cartridges are very convenient for a lot of people who don’t want to smoke anything, don’t want to smell like cannabis smoke or just want to be more discreet in their consumption. There’s a reason cartridges make up anywhere from 30% to 50% of sales in many dispensaries. I don’t see this reversing that trend."
He adds: "We’ll likely see a decrease in vape sales in general, not only in states that have bans. Early indications are that this is already happening. But the convenience and non-smoking factors with vapes are very strong among consumers and they will likely remain a strong part of the market, particularly once the hysteria of the current health scare dies down."
Read the Mass.gov press release here.