A medical marijuana trade association is calling for Missouri to strictly regulate vaping additives to address black-market products — including those that use cannabis — as the state prepares for next year's legalization of medical marijuana. The proposal is a self-serving one for the legalized industry, but it's also valid policy.
Nationally, health officials are still trying to pin down the cause of hundreds of illnesses across the U.S. and almost a dozen deaths apparently linked to vaping. In addition to investigating legal vaping products, officials are focusing on black-market vaping products that contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, or fillers meant to deceive buyers into believing they contain THC.
With Missouri soon to begin licensing medical marijuana facilities around the state, the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association is asking state medical officials to address that black market with strict rules on vaping additives, testing and labeling.
As the Post-Dispatch's Jack Suntrup reported, the association sent a letter last week to the state Department of Health and Senior Services arguing that it is "incumbent that we continue to work together to safeguard public health — and diminish the black market."
Safeguarding public health is always a worthy goal, but trade groups don't lobby for policy changes unless they see them as advantageous to their industries. This situation is no different.
Although cannabis-related vaping is generally a recreational activity, and only medical marijuana has been legalized in Missouri, it's not outlandish to think some people who might be helped by legal medical marijuana would be tempted to self-medicate with a cheaper black-market version — including, possibly, a vaping version. Obviously, the legalized medical marijuana industry would rather their products not face that kind of clandestine competition. So, yes, there is, as always in politics, self-interest involved.
But that doesn't make the trade group's proposed crackdown wrong. Again, it's become increasingly apparent that vaping in general is dangerous, and there are indications that black-market, cannabis-related vaping products might pose special dangers.
One issue under investigation nationally is whether fillers like vitamin E acetate oil — which is sometimes added to or completely swapped out for more expensive THC oil to fool black-market vaping-product buyers — is more dangerous than the real thing. Among the Missouri trade group's recommendations is an outright ban on vitamin E acetate and other additives in vaping products.
Those kinds of dangers are what happen when products with health implications are sold without any regulatory oversight; it's why they're called black markets. Gov. Mike Parson already has launched a public awareness campaign to highlight the possible dangers of vaping, and that's a good start. But the call for specific rules, disclosures and prohibitions on vaping additives — whatever the motivations of that call — is the right one.
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