Massachusetts regulators quarantine medical vape products as ban expires
By Jessica Bartlett – Reporter, Boston Business Journal
10 hours ago
The state's Cannabis Control Commission has quarantined medical marijuana vaping products as the state agency said it will seek to test the substances.
The commission had indicated last week that it could order retail shops and dispensaries to quarantine products if Gov. Charlie Baker’s ban on medical marijuana vapes expired this week. On Tuesday the commission took action, instituting a quarantine on marijuana oil products such as vape pens, vape cartridges, aerosol products, and inhalers.
The commission’s quarantine isn't as broad as the governor’s ban. The commission will allow vaping of marijuana flower, which marijuana advocates say is not as effective as vaping oil.
The commission said in a release that the quarantine is necessary after the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention found on Friday that many of the vaping illnesses were tied to a substance called vitamin E acetate.
“The Commission’s existing testing regulations and protocols do not require testing for vitamin E acetate,” the commission said in its Tuesday release. “Based on current manufacturing processes, it is possible that legal marijuana products sold in the state could contain vitamin E acetate or other potential ingredients of concern. As part of the Commission’s quarantine order issued Tuesday, licensed Marijuana Establishments and Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers are required to quarantine products on administrative hold in the state’s mandated seed-to-sale tracking system of record.”
The commission added that it had begun talking to labs to understand their capacity to test for vitamin E acetate, and circulated an anonymous survey in September to understand ingredients and sources of additives used in marijuana products.
In a press conference hosted Tuesday by cannabis advocacy groups known as C3RN, Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title said that the quarantine was in response to “credible evidence” of a problem, unlike the “ill-informed, unconstitutional” ban.
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The ban on medical marijuana products was lifted on Tuesday after Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled last week that the commission, not the governor, had authority over medical marijuana products. Wilkins said the medical marijuana vape ban would expire at noon on Tuesday unless the commission took action.
Will Luzier, one of four medical marijuana patients who filed suit against the vape ban, said he was disappointed in the commission's action.
“I think its unfortunate that medical marijuana patients will not be able to get the medicine they feel they need to treat whatever malady they had," he said.
He added that the commission should have started testing for vitamin E acetate, which had long been suspected of causing illnesses, earlier.
The ban remains in place for nicotine products and recreational cannabis products, and litigation on those has been moved to the state Supreme Judicial Court for a hearing in December. The Baker administration has been ordered by the courts to hold a hearing in late November as part of emergency regulations for the ban.
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The quarantine is the latest development in the months-long outbreak of vaping-related illnesses that has sickened 2,051 people across the country, as of Nov. 5. As of Nov. 6, three vaping-related deaths and 220 injuries had been reported in Massachusetts since the state started tracking vaping-related illnesses in September.
Despite the bans, users have continued to vape. Consumers have flocked to MCR Labs in Framingham to have their vape product tested for harmful chemicals. While only one walk-in test was received prior to the ban, 73 have occurred since the ban.
The lab’s experience matches the results of a survey released Nov. 6 by C3RN, which found that 32% of the 146 respondents had purchased THC vape products illegally since the ban. Additionally, 31% reported traveling to another state to get vape products. Of those that answered the survey, 63% said they were medical cannabis patients.
“When you ban things you drive people to the illicit market,” Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care clinician at Mass General Hospital and Harvard, said at the C3RN press conference. “The irony is, what's... making people sick is vapes from the illicit market. There is little evidence that people are getting sick from regulated products. It seems counterproductive to ban a regulated market where you can control, test and selectively ban certain agents and force people out of state or to the illicit market.”
Grant Smith, a medical cannabis patient, added at the press conference that the ban had impacted his ability to receive much needed medication.
“Take into consideration the human impact of these bans and act on evidence based recommendations from scientists,” Smith said.
Even beyond Tuesday, there is likely to be a tighter regulations around vaping. The Commission will seek to enact more robust regulations around vaping in the longer term, saying at their meeting last week that they would develop rules around ingredients, labeling, testing, sourcing, storage, manufacturing and consumption processes of both vaping products and accessories.