Nov 5, 2019
On September 24, 2019, Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker, declared a public health emergency in the Commonwealth and announced a four month ban on the sale of vape products. The Governor’s sweeping yet temporary ban’s intention is to “pause sales in order for our medical experts to collect more information about what is driving these life-threatening, vaping-related illnesses.”
While the 34 deaths and 1,604 lung-related illnesses tied to vaping in the United States are an absolute tragedy, the Governor’s swift and impetuous moratorium in Massachusetts on vaping actually unfolds a variety of problems, specific to the medical cannabis community.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently pointed to the fact that the health issues that are being attributed to vapes are actually coming from counterfeit products not sold in stores. In fact, Massachusetts testing regulations passed down to dispensaries are the highest standard in the nation, and require a certain amount of each batch to be tested and registered with the state. It is impossible to sell unregistered products of any kind through a dispensary, as the state reviews an inventory vs. sales report daily, and requires a detailed explanatory report from owners on any discrepancies, with the threat of being shut down until the issue is resolved.
So what about those vapes that are killing people and causing the mysterious lung illness, EVALI? They’re counterfeit, sold outside of legitimate retail stores in the unregulated market that the state itself is fighting to shut down.
Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled on Tuesday, November 5th that the Governor and the Department of Public Health sidestepped the only agency in the state with the authority to enable such a ban: the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC). Wilkins wrote, “Like any Massachusetts agency, the CCC itself has full authority to adopt emergency regulations.”
The Judge ruled that the CCC will have until Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at 12:01PM to uphold the ban, or to endorse their own alternative solution. The CCC will be meeting on Thursday, November 7th to discuss their options. C3RN’s clinical and academic press conference with expert industry speakers will coincidentally be held on November 12, 2019 at 12:00PM on the Massachusetts State House Steps.
On October 29, 2019 C3RN launched an anonymous survey asking the impact of the MA Vape Ban on the lives of Massachusetts residents. Between October 29th and November 4th there were 146 survey respondents. The intention of the survey is to give us a more informed opinion on the ban, and the data to provide recommendations to the CCC based on the following results:
- 56.85% of respondents say the lack of access to THC vapes as a preferred method of consumption has impacted their health
- 32.88% of respondents say they have been forced to purchase THC vape products through the illicit market
- 19.86% of respondents report they have started smoking again since the ban
- 15.75% of respondents have been forced to purchase nicotine vape products through the illicit market.
So, there are clear populations of people whose preferred method of consumption is vaping and the ban is causing a direct impact on their health. These people are turning to the illicit market where they’re purchasing potentially harmful counterfeit vapes.
Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN) provided the CCC with our formal recommendations on November 6, 2019 and additional recommendations will be provided at the clinical and academic press conference on November 12, 2019 on the MA State House Steps. Register here to follow updates: https://www.cannacenterofexcellence.org/event-3609645
Formal Recommendations Provided to the CCC on Nov 6, 2019 included:
Immediately stop the ban of the use of already tested, approved and regulated THC vapes for medical cannabis patients.
Develop an emergency working group of balanced, internal and external clinical, public health, and cannabis experts to continue to study the outbreak, and be an immediate liaison with the Governor's office and the Department of Public Health and act as an external advisor to the CCC.
The same testing standards are in place for adult use vapes. Immediately stop the ban for tested, approved and regulated THC vapes for adult use consumers.
Adopt a digital citizen reporting surveillance system based on international outbreak digital reporting best practices (examples of international digital surveillance/outbreak reporting systems can be provided by C3RN if interested) to collect key outbreak indicators directly from consumers and patients as a supplemental case/incident reporting system.
Develop a “Vape Buy-Back Program” Immediately implement an innovative citizen and community-based program to have consumers and patients turn their unregulated vapes into a place for a discount or no tax by purchasing a regulated and tested vape. Unregulated vapes can then be tested for what contaminants might be in the local market place. This could include turning your unregulated vape in for a discount medical vape at a regulated market place to start to remove and have access to test what illicit vapes might exist with patients and consumers in the local market and drive them back to regulated sources.
Develop an ongoing secret shopper program for testing of CCC regulated cannabis products that have been sitting on shelves, and other key tests/potential contaminants that are identified now and in the future. C3RN and MRCC developed a secret shopper program three years ago that can be shared as a baseline.
Ensure the current product recall standards and operational considerations are in place to address any potential future need to deploy product recall needs.
Develop a research and ongoing institution, company and citizen-based, surveillance and product safety reporting system based on international outbreak best practices that can also be scaled nationally. Additionally, ensure there is an effective way to recall products in case a future contaminated product is reported through a regulated or citizen reported source. Develop these in conjunction with international outbreak public health investigation, external and clinical experts who can work rapidly as an advisor to the CCC and collaborate with DPH and other government agencies to be sure to address the outbreak in real time and provide reporting for multiple government agencies (CCC, DPH, Governor's office, etc).
Revise any labeling or testing standards based on recommendations from local MA labs, based on their scientific recommendations and what they are finding from unregulated vapes being tested now in MA.
Continue to actively explore ways to get those who are operating in the unregulated market to have meaningful participation in the regulated market. Create a community working group of advocates, those who have operated in the unregulated industry in the past, including growers and farmers to provide recommendations in addition to the police, tax experts, and other stakeholders who have been involved to date. The black market will not be driven out solely by policing or price! Create a working group of internal and external experts who are familiar with both sides to create pathways.
Hold an emergency public hearing to hear recommendations from the scientific, clinical, consumer, patient and community.
Develop a public awareness campaign immediately about the value of seeking vapes from regulated dispensaries.
Additional recommendations will be delivered by C3RN, colleagues, and other community members on Nov 12, 2019 during a Press Conference at the MA State House Steps.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. You can take the survey to make sure your voice is heard when we read our recommendations at the upcoming press conference on November 12th.
2. Call the CCC and let them know where you stand
3. Call Governor Baker’s office
4. Come to the press conference on Tuesday Nov 12 and show your support for the sale of legal and regulated vape products
5. Share this post with anyone and everyone you know and urge them to do all of the above!