Columns, Opinion

Cannabis Culture: Baker’s ban turns users to black market

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency on Sept. 24 and called for an immediate ban of e-cigarettes and vaping products following a nationwide outbreak of lung disease.

The Centers for Disease Control have reported more than 1,479 cases of lung disease and 33 deaths attributed to vaping and released research pointing to a chemical found in THC vapes as a primary cause of these cases. 

The four-month ban in Massachusetts prohibits the sale of nicotine vapes, e-cigarettes and marijuana vapes sold at licensed recreational and medicinal cannabis dispensaries across the commonwealth. But the ban, which was called in order to protect the citizens of Massachusetts, has massive potential to cause harm.  

The ban can be viewed positively, as it shows that state officials in Massachusetts are ready to protect the health and wellbeing of residents of the Commonwealth. It provides state legislators with more time to create new legislation to limit teen vaping, a crisis plaguing the state. It also gives researchers and healthcare providers an opportunity to further research the link between vaping and lung disease. 

The increase in teen vaping throughout the state is undoubtedly a public health crisis. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said in a press release from Governor Baker’s office, “Vaping products are marketed and sold in nearly 8,000 flavors that make them easier to use and more appealing to youth.” 

Nicotine vapes can be found in flavors ranging from traditional tobacco to cotton candy, and the wide variety of vape flavors has made the experience customizable for each user. However, as a result of the ban, many users are now forced to go back to smoking cigarettes as a way to curb nicotine cravings. Evidence suggests the ban may even be creating first-time cigarette smokers. 

The governor was clear that his goal is to protect people in the state, but the ban inadvertently puts the health of Massachusetts residents at risk. The ban on vapes has severely limited the options available to marijuana users that previously relied on legal dispensaries to acquire safe lab-tested THC vapes. 

Many cannabis users vape as their primary consumption method because it is a healthier alternative to smoking cannabis. As a result, many users are forced to buy THC vapes from the illegal market where there are no regulations limiting the additives and solvents used in the manufacturing process and leaves users with no information on the potency or effects of these vapes. 

However, the THC in these vapes is not the cause of this widespread outbreak of lung disease. Research conducted through independent studies and by the CDC have found a common link in samples taken from black market and counterfeit THC vapes.

The cannabis distillate oil had been cut using vitamin E acetate among other chemical solvents. This acetate is safe when used topically or orally, but when vaped, the oil’s chemical structure is changed and can cause lung disease as seen in many of these vaping cases.

Studies showing vitamin E acetate to be a primary contributor to a large percentage of cases of lung disease and death caused by vaping has prompted a response from legal cannabis manufacturers across the state.

Several Massachusetts dispensaries have made public announcements prior to the vape ban that their vapes are manufactured without the use of vitamin E acetate and other harmful chemicals and pesticides to protect an important industry in the state. Recreational, but especially medical, marijuana users rely on vapes that have less odor and are safer, and a ban will not stop them. 

Unfortunately, Baker impatiently declared a ban on all vapes without considering that prohibition fuels the illegal market.

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