A Massachusetts marijuana commissioner has lashed out at Governor Charles Baker’s emergency order banning all vape products from the state, including those containing pot, calling the move a “terrible decision” that could worsen an outbreak of vaping-related lung disease.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said that it is looking into 61 cases of severe lung illness linked to vaping. So far it has confirmed just five cases, including two it classified as “probable.” These cases are part of a growing nationwide outbreak that has sickened at least 800 people and killed 12.
On Sept. 25, Gov. Baker responded by declaring a public health emergency and put into effect an immediate ban on the sale of all nicotine and cannabis vaping products, including both flavored and non-flavored products. The sweeping ban will remain in effect statewide for four months.
“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,” Gov. Baker said in a statement.
The action drew fire from Shaleen Title, one of the state’s five Cannabis Control Commissioners tasked with regulating marijuana within the state, where it has been legal for recreational use since 2016. She called the governor’s order “terrible” and “short-sighted.”
This is a terrible decision. Purposely pushing people into the illicit market — precisely where the dangerous products are — goes against every principle of public health and harm reduction. It is dangerous, short-sighted, and undermines the benefits of legal regulation. https://t.co/57OaVYf5nY
— Shaleen Title (@shaleentitle) September 24, 2019
Ms. Title told Law360 that the proper thing to do would have been to wait until researchers determine what is causing the lung illnesses before taking sweeping action.
“Blindly banning all vape products pushes people to use the illicit market, where evidence shows the unregulated and potentially dangerous products are coming from,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that many but not all of those sickened in the vaping crisis have reported using vape products containing THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Some of those sickened report using vapes with nicotine only. Uncertainty about what vape ingredients are causing the pneumonia-like lung illnesses is behind the drastic actions taken by Massachusetts and other state and local governments.
So far, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have banned or greatly restricted the sale of vape products, while several others including Delaware, Illinois and New Jersey are considering similar legislation. Still other states may take more drastic actions as the outbreak of vaping illness deepens.