At 12:01 p.m. on November 12, Massachusetts’ emergency ban on medical cannabis vaping products expired. But in its place, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission immediately instituted a quarantine of all medical marijuana vaping devices and products, with the exception of devices that vape flower. Officials with the Cannabis Control Commission say the quarantine isn’t as far-reaching as the Department of Public Health ban that a state judge ruled exceeded the agency’s authority. However, the state’s ban on nicotine vape products and recreational cannabis vape products remains in place.
As Ban Expires, Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission Blocks Sale of Medical Cannabis Vapes
Last Tuesday, Massachusetts Superior Court judge Douglas Wilkins blocked Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration from enforcing its emergency ban on medical marijuana vaping products. The authority to regulate medical marijuana, Wilkins ruled, belongs entirely to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission.
Medical marijuana vaping products, along with nicotine-based vaping products like e-cigarettes and recreational cannabis vape products like THC cartridges, were all banned under emergency regulations Gov. Baker and the Department of Public Health filed in late September.
The blanket ban on vaping devices came as a response to the nationwide rash of vape-linked illnesses and deaths that hospitalized thousands with unknown lung diseases. As health experts rushed to determine a specific cause connecting vaping to the outbreak of lung illnesses, politicians in several states acted quickly to institute temporary bans on all vaping products.
But after a series of legal challenges, Judge Wilkins ruled in late October that Gov. Baker’s administration did not follow the legally required procedures to institute such a ban. Wilkins’ ruling kept the ban in place, but ordered Baker’s Department of Health to adhere to all of the steps of the process, which include holding public hearings on the emergency ban and assessing its economic impact on small businesses.
Under Quarantine, Massachusetts Medical Cannabis Patients Can Only Vape Flower
Then, on November 5, Judge Wilkins ruled that the governor’s ban on medical cannabis vaping products specifically was unconstitutional. Wilkins cited the “exclusive powers” over medical marijuana regulations granted to the Cannabis Control Commission. In banning medical cannabis vaping products, the Department of Public Health had “very likely exceeded its authority,” Wilkins wrote in his decision.
The ruling kept the ban on medical marijuana vapes in place for a week in order to give the commission time to make a decision regarding the ban. If the commission took no action, then the ban would expire at noon on November 12.
But just as the ban was coming to an end today, the Commission issued a quarantine on all medical marijuana vaping products except devices that operate exclusively with dried flower.
Under the quarantine, medical cannabis patients cannot access vape pens designed to work with oils or concentrates, vape cartridges, aerosol products or inhalers.
The Cannabis Control Commission said its decision stems from a recent CDC report linking the common vape cartridge additive vitamin E acetate to the spate of lung illnesses and related deaths. Under the commission’s current regulations, testing protocols do not require screening for vitamin E acetate. As such, legal cannabis products sold at licensed dispensaries could contain the suspect additive, the commission said.
Massachusetts Regulators Work to Improve Testing for Suspect Vape Additives
Retail operators that sell quarantined products are now required to place administrative holds on those products in the state’s tracking system. The commission is currently working with third-party testing labs to improve their capacity to screen for vitamin E acetate and other suspect ingredients.
The commission’s decision has already drawn criticism from cannabis industry groups and patient advocates. They say the ban effectively pushes patients back into the illicit market. Many experts believe counterfeit vape cartridges widely available on the illicit market are the primary source of vape-linked lung illnesses. Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title said the quarantine was a response to the credible evidence provided by the CDC report.
Meanwhile, the state’s ban on nicotine vape products and recreational cannabis vape products will remain in effect. In line with Judge Wilkins’ ruling, the Baker administration will hold a public hearing on the vape ban later this month. The state Supreme Judicial court will begin hearing lawsuits against the ban from business owners and cannabis industry representatives in December.