By Colin A. Young, State House News Service
BOSTON — Now that all vaping products have been banned for four months, patients and consumers who don’t want to smoke their marijuana will have to find alternatives — or else turn to potentially dangerous products on the illicit market, one cannabis regulator warned.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration on Tuesday imposed an immediate ban on the sale of any and all vape products while federal and state public health officials continue to investigate a spate of lung illnesses connected to vaping nicotine and/or THC derived from marijuana.
But by banning the sale of regulated products, the state could be pushing people who are addicted to nicotine or are dependent on THC to get their favored products from illicit sellers — which could be exactly where the lung illnesses might have originated, Cannabis Control Commission member Shaleen Title said.
“My concern is, with the evidence showing that the dangerous products are coming from the illicit market, when we issue a ban, especially on an addictive products like e-cigarettes, we are pushing people to the illicit market, which is exactly the source of the unregulated and potentially dangerous products,” Title said Wednesday morning on WGBH’s “Morning Edition.”
Her comments were echoed overnight and Wednesday morning on social media and talk radio as the governor’s ban was met with backlash from people who wish to continue buying and using vaping products, as well as from merchants who are now suddenly unable to sell their products.
Title said there has been no link shown between legal, regulated marijuana products and the lung illnesses being investigated around the country.
“We as a commonwealth need to pause sales in order for our medical experts to collect more information about what is driving these life-threatening vaping-related illnesses,” Baker said Tuesday when he announced the ban. “We also need to better understand the inherent dangers of vaping both nicotine and marijuana.”
Asked Tuesday, after the Public Health Council approved the ban, about the potential for driving consumers into an illicit market, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said, “We can’t speculate on that.”
“We won’t know what’s going to happen, except that we plan to put our full efforts into enforcement of it,” Bharel said. “The important thing is, we saw this health issue, it’s a public health epidemic, and we’re acting.”
Also Wednesday morning on WGBH’s “Morning Edition,” host Joe Mathieu asked Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders what medical marijuana patients who don’t want to smoke marijuana should do now that all vapes are off the shelves.
“Well, there are many marijuana products. There’s not just smoking, there’s the oils and there are other marijuana remedies available to individuals on medical marijuana,” Sudders said.
Indeed, marijuana consumers who don’t want to burn the product can choose from an array of edible products like chocolate bars and gummies, topical creams and salves, THC aerosol inhalers that deliver a high via a fine mist, concentrated marijuana oil that one retailer says “can be consumed as an edible, or smoked/vaporized,” and syringes of marijuana extract advertised as “the perfect answer for dabs, topping off a bowl, giving that preroll an extra kick, or creating edibles at home.”
Title said she thinks it is not wise for the administration “to just assume that people are going to stop using that product or switch to another product.”
“I think it is not considering the very real potential that they would go to the readily available illicit market and potentially purchase a dangerous product,” Title said. “And that’s what I’m concerned about as a regulator.”
The Cannabis Trade Federation, an organization that supports and represents marijuana businesses around the country, echoed Title’s concerns in a statement released Tuesday night.
“While we share Gov. Baker’s concern for public safety and his desire to address the epidemic of lung illnesses, we are fearful of the unintended consequences of a ban on the sale of state-regulated cannabis products used in vaporization devices,” the group said. “By banning cannabis vape products that are produced according to state regulations, it significantly increases the likelihood that individuals will seek to purchase those products from unregulated sources.”
In connection with Tuesday’s ban announcement, Bharel issued an order expanding access to federal Food and Drug Administration-approved, over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy products including gum, lozenges and patches, through an order that facilitates insurance coverage for the products.
Katie Lannan contributed to this report.