After Jan. 1, Colorado’s cannabis consumers might see fewer vaping products at dispensaries than what’s on shelves today.
Effective that day — similar to efforts in Ohio and Washington — Colorado bans the medical and retail sale of cannabis vaping products that include three ingredients possibly linked to lung illness nationwide: polyethylene glycol, Vitamin E acetate, and medium chain triglycerides (MCT Oil).
The rules were adopted “in response to recent reports of lung-related illnesses associated with the use of vaporizer products, and to enhance overall health and safety measures in the manufacturing and labeling of regulated marijuana products,” according to a bulletin issued after Colorado’s Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division approved the ban Nov. 2.
Since August, there have been 12 cases of lung injuries related to vaping and 10 hospitalizations across the state, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. All of the patients — nine males and thee females — were in their teens or 20s, and no cases were reported in Pueblo, Otero and Bent counties. Five cases involved THC vaping substances, though its unknown if they were illegal or licensed products.
Colorado “has taken a more proactive approach by moving to ban more potentially harmful ingredients than just Vitamin E acetate,” said Frank Traylor, CEO of AgriScience Labs, a Denver-based company that’s the first testing lab in the state. “PEG and MCT do not have the same notoriety of Vitamin E acetate, but the jury is still out on whether those substances are safe in cannabis products.”
Banning vaping entirely would have been a “huge mistake,” said Sal Pace, a board member for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s leading lobbying group for cannabis policy reform, and a former Pueblo County commissioner.
“The fact that there is an industry that can be regulated is one of the primary benefits of legalization,” Pace said. “Once regulators identify something that can be improved — particularly out of a concern over health and safety — I think few in the industry would oppose it. Targeting harmful ingredients can be an appropriate response.”
The ban appears more reasonable than others adopted across the country, said Niccolo Aieta of Spherex, an Aurora-based concentrates company that sells products in dispensaries across Colorado.
“Looking at the root cause of the analysis is important, in contrast with what other states are doing,” said Aieta, a chemical engineer who’s the company’s founder and chief technology officer. “Manufacturers should have been producing THC products without those ingredients in the first place.”
One drawback, he said, is that there might be less of a selection on Jan. 1.
“Consumers can expect a shortage of those vaporizer products — and for the better,” Aieta said. “I think I can speak for the industry when I say we’re encouraged to see that governments are finally taking concrete action to regulate the cannabis industry and put the consumer first.”
It unlikely that any of the of the ingredients in the banned list were ever introduced to Colorado consumers who buy from dispensaries, Traylor said.
“We know of no Colorado manufacturers that introduce these chemicals into their products,” Traylor said. “AgriScience Labs has only found Vitamin E acetate in very small amounts in samples submitted for testing. We feel that it is unlikely that any producers within the Colorado regulated market have ‘cut’ their products with Vitamin E acetate — and that the Marijuana Enforcement Division will allow the small amounts of naturally occurring Vitamin E acetate.
“The source of unsafe products is presumed to be black market producers.”
Retailers are likely to remove any remaining products with the three targeted additives from their business rather than try to sell them quickly, Aieta said.
“If we were in that situation, we would never let a product with potentially harmful ingredients make it into a consumer’s hands — and we think responsible retailers will destroy any remaining products with those additives rather than try to sell it,” he said.
Such a move is not unfathomable, Pace said.
“Destroying product is not unheard of, for instance when unapproved pesticides are detected in cannabis products, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if regulators ordered products destroyed if they were concerned about a possible health risk,” he said.
Selling products with those three ingredients could become a liability, said Nik Komyati, chair of the Cannabis Law Practice group at the law firm Bressler, Amery & Ross in New Jersey.
“I would advise any client against selling them as I think that there is potential for personal injury lawsuits based upon what is currently known,” Komyati said. “I would advise them to be destroyed. I imagine reputable retailers will not be selling them any longer.”