Two major marijuana industry associations issued statements on Wednesday responding to the recent spike in severe lung injuries that seem to be linked to contaminated cannabis or nicotine vaping products obtained on the illicit market.
About 450 vaping-related injuries, including six fatal cases, have been reported in recent weeks. Though an exact cause has not yet been determined, experts suspect that products causing the injuries have been either contaminated or altered, possibly with thickening additives such as vitamin E acetate that can be deadly when inhaled.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) urged Congress to legalize and regulate cannabis so that federal health agencies are able to enforce quality control standards and address illegal sales.
"These unfortunate illnesses and deaths are yet another terrible, and largely avoidable, consequence of failed prohibition policies.” – #NCIA Co-founder Aaron Smith. #RegulationWorks https://t.co/jopk4gIaY7
— TheCannabisIndustry (@NCIAorg) September 11, 2019
“These unfortunate illnesses and deaths are yet another terrible, and largely avoidable, consequence of failed prohibition policies,” Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Current federal laws interfere with research, prevent federal regulatory agencies from establishing safety guidelines, discourage states from regulating cannabis, and make it more difficult for state-legal cannabis businesses to displace the illicit market.”
The Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF) said it supports a “full investigation into the cause or causes of the incidents to ensure the well-being of all consumers” and said its members should make themselves available to help public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by providing any information that could aid in their review.
CTF released this statement today re: reports of pulmonary-related illnesses associated with the use of vaporization products: https://t.co/oN8gV7BKws
— Cannabis Trade Federation (@CanTradeFed) September 11, 2019
“We are troubled and saddened by reports of an outbreak of pulmonary-related illnesses associated with the use of vaporization products, including those that reportedly contained cannabis,” CTF said. “As an industry, our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our consumers.
“The Cannabis Trade Federation supports strict regulation of the cannabis industry at both the state and federal level. Consumers and communities will benefit when all cannabis products are subject to rigorous production, safety, and testing standards at the federal level. We urge Congress to act now so that the federal government can serve its proper role in regulating cannabis as a consumer product.”
Both NCIA and CTF made a series of recommendations to consumers and industry stakeholders to mitigate the risk of worsening the problem.
First and foremost, consumers shouldn’t purchase or use vape products from the illicit market, the groups said.
Most of the products that appear to be linked to the vape injuries were purchased from illegal producers, though one Oregon man visited two licensed marijuana dispensaries before falling ill and dying. Investigators are hoping to analyze remnants of the products he obtained to determine whether they were the cause.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean the individual got sick from products that they had purchased at these dispensaries, we just know that the individual shopped at a couple of dispensaries prior to getting ill,” a health official told Willamette Week.
NCIA said that licensed vape cartridge producers should suspend the use of any thickening agents until more information is known about the cause of the injuries. If such producers have used vitamin E acetate in their products, they’re “strongly encouraged to issue a voluntary recall.”
Retailers should also take steps to ensure that any products they’re selling do not come from producers using vitamin E acetate.
CTF also said it supports educational outreach efforts and urged states “to review their warnings on vape products and their required disclosures about non-cannabis ingredients included in vape products to maximize consumer knowledge and awareness.”
Though the vaping issue seemed to fly mostly under the radar in its early phase, with federal health agencies facing criticism over their muted response to the problem, there’s been a significant increase in attention on the federal level since the first vaping-related deaths were reported.
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has been especially vocal about the injuries and has seemed to suggest over the past week that federal regulation of marijuana products is necessary to avert such instances.
The agency’s current acting commissioner appeared beside President Donald Trump and the secretary of Health and Human Services on Wednesday to announce that flavored e-cigarette cartridges would be banned.
Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana said in a tweet that the e-cigarette ban should be followed up with a national moratorium on cannabis legalization.
With the Trump Administration now poised to ban non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes, @realDonaldTrump should take a step further in defending public health by calling for a national moratorium on marijuana legalization.
Statement coming soon.#PotVapingCrisis
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) September 11, 2019
Image by Lindsay Fox from Pixabay.
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.