No state reacted more swiftly or more decisively to the still-ongoing outbreak of lung illnesses, injuries, and deaths connected to vaporizer use than Massachusetts.
In September, a few weeks after the first of what is now 39 deaths and counting nationwide were reported, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in September imposed a four-month ban on legal sales of all vapes, cannabis and nicotine alike.
What impact Baker’s ban has had on public health is unclear. Nearly all available evidence now points to underground, illicit vaporizer products as the vector, an early hypothesis now supported by the federal Centers for Disease Control, but medical cannabis patients, at least, could see that ban lifted as soon as Nov. 12.
However, as Boston-based WBUR reported, vaporizer cartridges may yet be subjected to stricter controls, including bans.
Baker’s ban was immediately challenged in the courts. Earlier this week, a state Superior Court judge ruled that Baker exceeded his authority when imposing the ban. Only the state Cannabis Control Commission had the authority to regulate or halt sales of cannabis products and during its public meeting on Thursday, the CCC declined to do that.
Instead, the CCC’s five commissioners voted to revamp state cannabis regulations, which means that for medical cannabis patients, the ban is now set to expire on Nov. 12. At that time, medical cannabis patients should be allowed to purchase flower-based vaporizers, which are currently not suspected in any lung-injury.
For everyone else (and for anyone jonesing for a Juul pod or other nicotine vaporizer) the ban now expires Dec. 24.
It’s still possible that Massachusetts cannabis customers, recreational and medical alike, will be unable to purchase vaporizer cartridges next week and beyond, pending the outcome of an appeal on the earlier ruling filed by the Baker administration.
Over the long-term, however, state regulators will now attempt to craft rules “based on science” following public input, according to Commissioner Shaleen Title, who was quick to denounce Baker’s initial ban as a reactionary over-reach.
Future rules could mean bans or restrictions on various cannabis products, depending on potency or formulation. Or not! It all “depends on what the evidence shows,” as Title posted on Twitter today, or what the state Legislature chooses to do.
“It is possible that there may be enough credible evidence to warrant a quarantine of non-flower THC vapes,” she wrote. “Either way, regulations with appropriate public input are in process.”
Though “no one cause” has yet been identified, today, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a bulletin confirming what many researchers and advocates had suspected from nearly the beginning: Lab tests from lung fluid collected from patients in 10 states all revealed an oily additive called vitamin E acetate.
As Leafly News was the first to report, vitamin E acetate — safe to eat but not to breathe — is the main ingredient in diluting agents like Honey Cut.
Data showing where and when the lung injuries were reported reveal that there are far more cases per capita in states where cannabis is illegal than in legal states, strongly suggesting that unscrupulous underground merchants cutting THC oil with additives like Honey Cut are responsible for the vaping deaths, not regulated dispensaries, as several prohibitionist zealots were quick to allege, without any supporting evidence.
When they’re crafted, Massachusetts’s new rules will likely ban additives like vitamin E acetate. They may also set other product safety standards so as to avoid a repeat of this crisis. That all depends on how willing officials like Baker and lawmakers in the Legislature are to listen to reason.
Update: Marijuana vapes remain banned in Massachusetts following the Nov. 12 decision to quarantine vape products.
TELL US, have the vaping deaths made you think twice about whether to vape?