Massachusetts marijuana stores can resume the sale of vaping products soon, but only those that are newly manufactured and tested for contaminants, regulators said Thursday.
The products must be manufactured Thursday or later, according to the order from the Cannabis Control Commission, so it’s not clear when customers will actually be able to start buying vaping products in stores again.
In its announcement, the commission amended a quarantine, put in place Nov. 12, that effectively banned the sale of cannabis vaping products as the commission waited for more information about whether regulated products were causing any of the 93 confirmed and probable vaping illnesses in Massachusetts.
“Today, hopefully, is the start of a process,” said the commission’s executive director, Shawn Collins.
He said investigating the illnesses has been a “moving target,” as health officials learn more about the products’ ingredients. The commission may still need to revise its policies as more information becomes available.
“These protections exist in the legal market,” he said, emphasizing: "They do not exist in the illicit market.”
Starting Thursday afternoon, marijuana stores were allowed to sell products manufactured that day or later once they have been tested for vitamin E acetate and other contaminants, including heavy metals. Vitamin E acetate has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a probable culprit — though not the only one — in the vaping illnesses that have killed at least 52 people nationwide.
Cannabis vaping products that were manufactured before Dec. 12 will remain quarantined.
“Today’s action builds upon previously existing infrastructure around the manufacturing process, around our testing protocols, and the things that we screen for,” Collins said. “What we’ve learned is these are things that need to continue to be honed.”
A representative for New England Treatment Access, which has dispensaries in Brookline and Northampton, said the company plans to get its newly manufactured vape cartridges to state labs for testing within 24 to 48 hours. But it will ultimately fall on the labs to determine how quickly those tests can be done.
NETA president Amanda Rositano said they want to get products back on the shelves “as soon as possible.”
“[The commission’s decision] is really a win for our customers and our patients who can now have access to a product that has been tested, that’s well regulated, that comes with accurate information about what’s inside those products, and that really drives them back into the regulated market and away from the illicit market,” she said.
At MCR Labs, one of the state’s licensed independent testing laboratories, the typical turnaround time for products is between three and five business days, CEO Michael Kahn said.
“If we have a huge onslaught, of course it’ll take longer,” he said. “We’re doing our best.”
Manufacturers will now be required to list ingredients in vape cartridges such as additives, thickening and thinning agents, and terpenes — a requirement unanimously endorsed by the commission in September, shortly before Governor Charlie Baker announced the temporary ban of all vaping product sales.
Retailers that sell vaping products will also be required to post a disclaimer, including an insert with the product itself, that states: “This product has been tested for contaminants, including Vitamin E Acetate, with no adverse findings. WARNING: Vaporizer Products may contain ingredients harmful to health when inhaled."
In addition, marijuana stores are allowed to begin selling cannabis flower vaporizers and vape pens, as long as the latter does not contain any cannabis concentrate.
As part of an investigation into the vaping illnesses, the commission had been asking for information from state health officials about whether regulated vaporizers have been tied to any illnesses in Massachusetts — or if illicit ones are entirely to blame.
The Department of Public Health had been reluctant to release those details but made an agreement with the commission Friday to share that data as long as the information is not publicly released.
The commission said Thursday that no one with a confirmed lung illness has reported using vaping products from a licensed dispensary. Health officials said last week six patients with probable cases — but not confirmed — have been linked to regulated products.
Separately, the commission in November had an independent laboratory test 91 vaping product samples from 19 different licensees. The lab did not identify “detectable levels of vitamin E acetate” in any of the samples. The commission collected 126 additional products from 22 different licensees this month and is waiting on the results of those tests.
The news from the commission comes just one day after officials from the state’s Department of Public Health voted to lift the ban on the sale of nicotine vaping products, though with specific restrictions on how those products can be sold.