Breaking: Lawmakers Look to Crack Down on THC Vaporizers

“Any attempt to further criminalize THC is a knee-jerk reaction, which has been conditioned as a result of Reefer Madness”

A woman is holding a Juul e-cigarette, in Montreal, vaping iStock / Josie_Desmarais

In the wake of the nation’s alarming spat of vaping related deaths and illnesses, President Trump’s administration is moving to ban flavored e-cigarettes. While a bipartisan group of lawmakers is applauding that effort, some federal officials want to go further and ban all vaping products, including the THC cartridges and devices that millions of Americans now regularly use.

Last week, after six deaths were initially linked to vaping – along with more than 300 patients who have admitted themselves after reporting chest pains, struggling to simply breathe, excessive coughing spells, high fevers, intense chest pains, abnormal spells of tiredness and even bouts of vomiting – Trump took to the Oval Office and declared that his administration would soon be banning flavored e-cigarettes.

While e-cigs – flavored or otherwise – have nothing to do with the current health crisis in the vaping community, it seems that neither do the THC vape cartridges sold legally in states that have set up stringent regulatory systems to oversee their recreational cannabis marketplaces.

Still, even some lawmakers who represent the 11 states (along with the nation’s capital and some U.S. territories) that have legalized marijuana for recreational use are now calling to hit the pause button on THC vaping devices. They argue the unknown risks associated with vaping THC are too great for state regulators to continue to allow them to still be sold right now.

“That’s why they need to be pulled,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) told Wikileaf last Wednesday as the news was breaking about the Food and Drug Administration’s move to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

“That’s why I support what the administration has done today through the FDA and the current [Health and Human Services], pulling all of these flavored products – these vaping products – off the shelves until we can study them and really understand the impact it’s having towards our kids, as well as adults, is something that’s so important.”

The AP is now reporting that people who vape CBD are also suffering illnesses tied to the synthetic compounds mixed in with the natural elements in the oils they inhale. Cortez Masto says it’s time to halt vaping in all forms until the harms, or potential benefits, of it are better understood by scientists, regulators, and the general public.

“We need to study it. There [have] been too many deaths,” Cortez Masto said. “We need to study what’s going on here. Our priority should be consumer safety and protection.”

Marijuana advocates fear some federal officials are now using the recent troubling reports of illnesses tied to mostly illicit vaping products as a quasi-backdoor prohibition, instead of pushing to legalize cannabis and then regulate it as if it were a six-pack or even the cheapest bottle of wine at your local grocery store.  

“Any attempt to further criminalize THC is a knee-jerk reaction, which has been conditioned as a result of Reefer Madness,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Wikileaf. “This issue is similar to alcohol and tobacco and it reiterates the need for regulations, which is why we don’t see these similar kinds of unforeseen consequences with those products. Consumers know the risks and they have at their disposal the education needed through proper labeling.”

One of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s top lieutenants, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), has called for the FDA to crack down on flavored e-cigarettes for years now, which she and many other lawmakers believe are specifically targeted towards children. That’s why she’s fully on board with the administration’s targeted vaping ban, though she goes a step further.

“So would that apply to THC vaping products as well?” I asked DeLauro.

“Yeah, I want it,” the 15-term Congresswoman responded. “I think they are a real danger to people. Real danger.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also recommending that, “if you are concerned about these specific health risks, CDC recommends that you consider refraining from using e-cigarette or vaping products,” which includes THC products.

Even some tobacco-state Republicans are pointing the finger at THC vaping products, even if they still support the industry argument that nicotine products are being unfairly lumped in with cannabis-infused products.

“The preliminary studies that have been done say that people have been injecting them with THC,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told reporters at the Capitol. “We’ve got an age limit and they’re addressing this from a youth usage [perspective] – there’s a disconnect there. If there’s an age limit, why don’t we enforce the age?”

Initial reports from Wisconsin and Illinois show 84 percent of the lung illnesses being reported are tied to marijuana vaping products. Up in Albany, New York, officials have linked THC oils mixed with vitamin E acetate to the scary lung cases they’ve seen popping up. But lawmakers on Capitol Hill seem to be more focused on the headlines that blame vaping in general, rather than what’s actually being reported by state and federal health officials.  

“I think it’s the destruction of the lung tissue which really concerned me,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters at the Capitol. “I was shocked when I saw those pictures in the paper.”

As a growing number of federal lawmakers are calling for a clampdown or outright ban on vaping products, pot-proponents fear their baby is getting tossed out with the proverbial bathwater.

“It’s also a little bit premature to do that considering we don’t really know what’s at fault for this outbreak of illnesses that’s been largely associated with illicit market products and adulterants,” National Cannabis Industry Association spokesperson Morgan Fox told Wikileaf.

Cannabis proponents say this whole episode shows why federal legalization or even decriminalization of marijuana – and the federal, state and local regulations that would accompany such a move – is essential. Especially because many lawmakers seem to be forgetting that vaping seems to be healthier than sparking a joint.

“What we don’t want to do is eliminate the potential harm reduction applications of vaping over smoking in our rush to do something right away about this issue,” Fox said.

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