Cannabis regulators quarantine THC vapes  

TONY DEJAK/AP photo/A woman using a vaping device exhales a puff of smoke. Gov. Charlie Baker banned vaping products four months. Meanwhile, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Thursday that new government figures show more than 2,000 Americans have come down with vaping-related illnesses in every state but Alaska. 

BOSTON — Medical marijuana patients won't be able to get their vape products, after all, following a decision by state regulators to block the products from returning to pot store shelves.

On Tuesday, the state Cannabis Control Commission ordered all THC-based vaping products quarantined and said regulators will conduct additional tests of the products — which were already cleared by a state testing laboratory to be sold — to determine if they are safe.

The decision follows a ruling by Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins to resume sales of vaping products to medical marijuana patients by Tuesday. Wilkins ruled that Gov. Charlie Baker and the state Department of Public Health didn't have the authority to impose emergency regulations banning the sale of medical marijuana vaping products, which are regulated by the cannabis control board.

In a statement, the commission's executive director, Shawn Collins, said the agency has legal authority to quarantine the products to "protect public health and welfare" in response to federal and state investigations into a vaping-related lung illness that has sickened more than 2,000 and killed 39 people, including three in Massachusetts.

The agency will still allow patients to vape marijuana flower, which involves a device that heats up ground cannabis buds to create a vapor to be inhaled.

"It's really disappointing," said Will Luzier, one of four medical marijuana patients challenging the state's ban on THC products in court. "For most patients, flower vaping products are not an option, and it's really unfortunate that they won't be able to get their product."

Frank Shaw of Ipswich said he uses medical marijuana vaping products to relieve pain in his feet from neuropathy, back pain and insomnia. He visited a medical pot dispensary in Brookline on Tuesday hoping to replenish his dwindling supply of vapes, only to learn that the products won't be available.

"I understand they want to err on the side of caution, but I'm still upset about it," the 66 year-old said. "This experience has been very difficult for me."

In its order, the cannabis board noted the latest advisory by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found evidence that Vitamin E acetate in THC vapes is a possible source of the lung-related illness.

State regulators will be collecting data from state health officials and conducting additional tests of the products through state-approved laboratories to determine if vitamin E was present in vapes previously cleared for sale, the commission said Tuesday.

The state's pot labs currently test for heavy metals and other contaminants, but not vitamin E acetate.

"Based on current manufacturing processes, it is possible that legal marijuana products sold in the state could contain vitamin E acetate or other potential ingredients of concern," the commission said.

Medical marijuana patients argue that the real culprit behind the illnesses is counterfeit vaping cartridges and THC products that are being sold on the black market.

Baker declared a public health emergency and imposed a four-month ban on all vaping products including flavored nicotine on Sept. 24 in response to the outbreak of lung disease. The ban was immediately challenged in court, and Baker was ordered to file emergency regulations two weeks ago in order to keep the temporary restrictions in place.

Medical marijuana patients argued that the ban, which covers all vaping products, blocked access to their medication and forced them to turn to illegal sales or other sources.

They joined a lawsuit filed by the Vapor Technology Association on behalf of nicotine vaping stores seeking to overturn Baker's temporary ban on sales of the products.

Roughly 60,000 patients are certified to buy medical marijuana to treat pain, cancer symptoms and other conditions from more than 50 state-licensed dispensaries.

The Baker administration, which is defending its vaping ban in state and federal courts, has asked the Supreme Judicial Court to get involved in the dispute and uphold the restrictions.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for the Times and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

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