Authorized vape markets are actually 1,000% safer than the road


David Downs December 19, 2019

(Peter Kim / iStock)

Anyone who bought cannabis exclusively in a licensed medical or adult store in 2019 – you need to pat yourself on the back, you are excused.

For the rest of you: Sit down.

More than 2,409 people fell ill and 52 died of VAPI in 2019 (Vaping Associated Pulmonary Injury Injury Injury Injury Injury Injury Injury Injury Injury Injury Injury

Investigators attributed VAPI to disposable vaporizer cartridges filled with tainted cannabis oil that were bought from the streets in forbidden states and counties.

Vape lung injuries, mapped

Don't let anyone twist it: 2019 turned out to be the strongest argument for regulation of cannabis markets ever. VAPI has demonstrated that test regulations protect cannabis users in the rule of law.

This was not a viral or bacterial infection. VAPI was not an "outbreak". It was mass poisoning due to poor quality control of a popular consumer product – similar to bathtub gin or fentanyl-cut opioids or melamine-cut baby food.

A new analysis, compiled by Leafly from publicly available data, showed that cannabis prohibition states had ten times as many vapor injuries per capita as states that offered licensed, tested and legal cannabis vapor products. There have been no confirmed VAPI cases that have been associated solely with a licensed business or product in the United States.


Yes, we know that the Centers for Disease Control are calling EVALI for an e-cigarette or vaping lung injury.

We respectfully oppose this change of name. EVALI is inaccurate. The original VAPI term was changed by the federal authorities to include e-cigarettes that misinform the public.

This is not an injury caused by nicotine e-cigarettes. The cause is dirty THC cartridges that were bought on the street market.

Simple solution: legalize

If you want to reduce the number of VAPI cases to zero in 2020, only give people access to legal, licensed VAPING products. It's as simple as basic quality control, says NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano.

"Consumers need to be aware that not all cannabis products are created equal," he says. "Quality control tests are critical and only exist on the legally regulated market."

Prohibited states have 10 times more EVALI cases per capita

At the national level, vaping violations are largely due to poor quality control in electronic drug delivery systems. Consider the following comparisons:

Utah vs. California

Utah has driven more than ten times more cases of VAPI per capita than California.

The difference? Cannabis products are legal in California, but not in Utah. The result? Utah recorded an average of 38 VAPI cases per million people this summer. California had an average of 3.6 cases per million.

New York vs. Colorado

This pattern of “legal vs. Forbidden States ”has been confirmed at the national level. The mature legalization state of Colorado – a huge vaping state – had 2.1 VAPI cases per million inhabitants.

In New York – where there is no legal adult cannabis market – there were 23.8 VAPI cases per million people.

Wisconsin v Washington

Washington State, a pioneer in cannabis legalization, had 2.8 VAPI cases per million people. The banned state of Wisconsin, which does not allow medical marijuana, had 17.6 VAPI cases per capita. According to a CDC report on VAPI in Illinois and Wisconsin, "almost all THC-containing products reported by individuals were purchased primarily from informal sources such as friends, family members, or illegal traders."

"It is obviously a success story for the regulated market," said Josh Wurzer, founder of the state-certified California cannabis testing laboratory SC Laboratories. "Maybe that's the positive thing about this whole thing."

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No confirmed VAPI cases due to the exclusive use of licensed products

The CDC does not recommend vaporizing anything, but officials are particularly careful to avoid vaporizing products bought on the street market. This is due to another amazing statistic that repeats itself: Investigators have confirmed zero VAPI cases that are related only to the use of legal, state-licensed cannabis products.

California: VAPI, where legal business is prohibited

The state of California, which has recorded 178 cases and four deaths from VAPI, has released a self-report on the use of licensed products. Self-reports, however, are notoriously unreliable, and available data show that VAPI cases are more common in areas of the state where legal access to cannabis is still effectively restricted by local regulations.

Because so many municipalities have banned state-licensed cannabis shops, many Californians cannot get their hands on legal, laboratory-tested products. The legal market is two years old and the illegal market is three to four times as large. With only 600 licensed cannabis retailers serving 38 million Californians, many consumers still have to travel to another state to legally buy cannabis.

The difference in security level between these areas is noticeable. The California outbreak began with seven casualties in Kings County, which prohibits legal cannabis shops. However, not a single VAPI case was reported in San Francisco County – a place with ample access to legally tested vapes.

Massachusetts: Unconfirmed reports on VAPI in licensed products

In apparently large December news, Massachusetts officials announced six VAPI cases that may be related to a licensed product. That sounds bad, but these six cases make up only 7% of all VAPI cases in Massachusetts – where the main culprits are illegal brands like Dank Vapes and other notorious street products.

Further investigation revealed that, according to a tweet from Shaleen Title, the cannabis commissioner in Massachusetts, Massachusetts investigators have not confirmed a single VAPI case related to the exclusive use of a licensed product.

Investigators have to deal intensively with self-reporting because a certain number of patients lie to avoid embarrassment or self-accusation.

New York: Hundreds of VAPI cases, none from the medical market

The best example of how tests work is New York, where 205 people fell ill and one died from VAPI. How many of these victims have been linked to the state's strict medical cannabis system? Zero

At the start of the state program, the New York Marijuana Ordinance banned the main cause of VAPI – vitamin E oil as a cutting agent.

"Since the onset of the disease investigation, no outbreaks related to approved products related to the NYS Medical Marijuana program have been reported," said Jill Montag, New York Department of Health information officer. "Medical marijuana products are approved by the department and are rigorously tested for contaminants, pesticides and cannabinoid levels, including but not limited to THC and CBD."

Street Vapes: Huge incentive to cheat

You don't buy milk and meat from a stranger on the back of a truck in a dark alley. The same common sense rule applies to vaping. Where there is oversight, there is less wrongdoing.

Indeed, one reason why voters across the country agree to legalize cannabis is to clean up their supplies and ensure that the labels are correct and the products are clean.

Street market vape carts are not sent to certified laboratories for effectiveness and purity testing. Indeed, street cart manufacturers have an incentive not to have their products tested because it is easy to deceive consumers with an impure or otherwise unsafe product. The incentive to cheat is huge as millions of Americans vape, leading to a multi-billion dollar industry. Josh Wurzer, founder of SC Labs, found that the vapor injuries frequently occurred in groups in 2019, which was compatible with the poor batches of carts bought in the illegal market.

There are almost no consequences on the street market if you get caught – unless you are arrested. The Dank Vapes brand is now notorious nationwide, but has never been a legitimate, official company or organization. Illegal "thanks to vapes" makers can switch to another fake brand name in no time – it's as easy as ordering a new batch of empty boxes from Alibaba.

Switching to Clean Cannabis in Michigan

Unfortunately, the difference between a legal, approved vape cart and a street cart is not always easy to see. Michigan, for example, is transitioning from an unsupervised supply chain to a tested one. On December 17, officials issued an unprecedented recall of products contaminated with vitamin E oil. Regulators have banned the thickener in THC vapes this year, but the mandatory tests weren't triggered until May. It was too late to prevent an unregulated collective from selling boxes of depraved thanks to Vapes to a store licensee with two locations. The Michigan Department of Health recommends avoiding all state, store, or other THC vehicles at this time.

Legal vapes: Huge incentive to stay clean

In contrast, government test systems are set up to contain contaminants – and the consequences for fraudsters can be serious. Legal cart manufacturers compete for purity and potency – the invisible hand of the market – and do not work so invisibly under the guidance of government regulations. "In this case, the competition cannot stop anyone from doing this," said Wurzer.

Those who break the rules pay the price. A well-known Californian brand, Kushy Punch, recently lost its license when government regulators reportedly discovered that the company was launching back-testing products onto the street market with test failures. (Kushy Punch officials rejected the state's allegation. Company officials said they only stored old products. However, a former Kushy Punch employee confirmed the state's suspicions of Leafly. Read more about the controversy here.)

State-licensed companies also face litigation when a bad product hurts someone, and that seems to be making sure that there are no agents on the shelves of legal, licensed cannabis retailers for now. A recent state test of 99 licensed Massachusetts products showed no vitamin E oil. California's Cannasafe and Anresco Labs found no trace of vitamin E in legal stocks, nor did Confidence Analytics in Washington.

Californian NORML director Dale Gieringer explained the structural disadvantages of diluting legal products with cutting agents such as vitamin E oil.

"It is not surprising that government products do not contain vitamin E acetate," Gieringer told Leafly. "Vitamin E is a cutting agent that is used to dilute cannabis oil. Illegal manufacturers use it to develop their product. It looks like pure THC oil so you can't see it is there. However, products are regulated by the state tested for effectiveness so that you know how much THC you are getting, so vitamin E is of no use to you. ”

Street vendors are not exposed to such a test. Numerous reports confirm that road cutters increased the consumption of vitamin E oil from practically none in 2018 to savings of up to 40% in 2019. Industry experts estimate that around 60% of street carts, or dozens of millions of units, contain the chemical can severely affect lung function.

2020: Work to be done

Just because the legal markets proved to be 1,000% safer than the street market in 2019 does not mean that the state regulators can rest on their laurels. The rule of law must further strengthen the resistance to contamination of the legal supply chain in 2020.

Basic supervision

A typical example: The entire Track & Trace system in the state of Washington has been broken for more than a year. It is totally unacceptable. Monitoring of laboratories and the supply chain in Oregon must also be significantly improved immediately.

Proactive additive rules

Legal cannabis states must immediately ban dangerous additives such as vitamin E oil.

Colorado recently decided to ban the most common cutting materials and additives – vitamin E oil, MCT oil, PG, VG and PEG. Expect other constitutional states to follow soon.

Test for heavy metals

California tests for heavy metals, but only a few other states. That has to change so that regulators can identify and prevent future problems with cobalt lung, lead poisoning, or other hardware failures. An unknown amount of substandard and dangerous steam products continue to arrive from China every day. Bad and medically dangerous products must be screened out of the system.

Evaporation tests

Industry and regulators need to use more "puffing boxes" – lab testers to quantify the contents of vapor emissions so that we can not only analyze what gets into a vapor pen, but also the novel chemicals that they produce be emitted. Tests have shown that vapors can emit far less harmful chemicals than smoking. However, the hardware and ingredients must be pure and used at low temperatures and voltages. Canadian regulators recently announced that they will launch a test program to investigate steam emissions. If Canada can, there is no reason why American states can too.

Pesticide limits and labeling

Regarding pesticides, all state cannabis testing regulations should be standardized to meet California's strictest Category 3 standards.

In addition: Permitted ingredients must be specified more precisely, so that, for example, allergy sufferers can avoid certain permitted ingredients – such as the usual pesticide neem oil.

Learn to think like a thief

Regulators need to be more proactive: imagine the next dangerous additive that the street market could introduce and prevent it from spreading. Think like a cutter to catch a cutter. Start randomly testing off-the-shelf products for emerging and potentially toxic threats.

"It is difficult to be one step ahead of the black market. You will always find new, creative ways to falsify your products," said Wurzer. "It will affect how we regulate."

Caution steaming bans

The next year could be a banner year for transgressing vape bans that ultimately do more harm than good. Prohibition ideologists love confusing the water on VAPI because the clear test rules protect consumers in the rule of law. Don't let them. Vaping bans are pushing both cannabis and nicotine users to medically dangerous street markets.

The national picture is pretty clear: the cannabis ban helps and promotes poisoning and endangers the public – be it with tub gin in the 1920s or with spoiled THC vapor 100 years later. It doesn't have to be that way. Consumers can be means of their own health by avoiding dangerous street markets and working nationwide to end the ban.

"The VAPI outbreak increases the need for more regulation, standardization, and surveillance of the cannabis market – principles that NORML has consistently called for in the cannabis space," said Armentano.

Here is a public link to an excerpt from our analysis.

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David Downs heads news and lifestyle reporting as California Bureau Chief for He was written for WIRED, Rolling Stone and Billboard and is the former cannabis editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and author of several cannabis books, including & # 39; Marijuana Harvest & # 39; by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. He is the co-host of the hash podcast. TW: @davidrdowns | IG @daviddowns