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State cannabis agency proposes measure to require more transparency on vape ingredients sold in marijuana stores

Jason Henry/The New York Times

State regulators, reacting to growing alarm about the health risks of vaping, endorsed a measure Thursday to require marijuana companies to disclose all ingredients in vape cartridges sold in licensed stores.

The move by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission followed a Globe report last week raising questions about regulatory gaps in the state’s oversight of additives in regulated marijuana cartridges.

“This is something we’ve taken very seriously as a commission,” executive director Shawn Collins said, adding that the change is “an attempt to disclose to patients or consumers what is actually in the product they may be procuring.”

The commission voted unanimously to include the rule in its proposed regulatory changes that it will vote on later this month.


Concerns over vaping product chemicals have exploded in recent weeks, as health officials nationwide investigate the cause of a mysterious and deadly lung illness afflicting people who reported vaping marijuana, nicotine, or both in days or weeks before suffering breathing problems. Health officials have urged people to stop vaping until they determine the cause.

Six people have died nationwide, and 450 have fallen ill. Massachusetts officials are investigating 10 possible cases but haven’t confirmed any.

Health officials have found that several samples provided by patients include a chemical called vitamin E acetate, an oil that can be safe in food or on skin but potentially harmful when inhaled.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said this week he would subpoena three companies — including one based in Amherst, Mass., called Mass Terpenes — for selling thickeners that contained nearly pure vitamin E oil for vape cartridge manufacturers.

The owner of Mass Terpenes, Daniel French, of Athol, had not returned requests for comment earlier this week, but after the Globe published an article online late Wednesday about the company, his lawyer contacted the newspaper the next day to say French wants to help.


“He’s extremely concerned and disturbed about the developments,” said Dick Evans, a Northampton cannabis attorney. “He wants to be as helpful and as cooperative to the public health authorities as he can.”

Evans did not make French available for an interview, but said he is “a young businessman and he’s trying to do the right thing.”

The company posted on its website Thursday that the vitamin E chemicals had been “widely available across dozens of other companies” and said it had stopped selling products containing vitamin E.

Officials say black-market cannabis vape products seem to be particularly dangerous, but there is little clarity on how much safer regulated vape products may be. One of the patients who died had visited a licensed dispensary in Oregon.

Massachusetts health experts and cannabis industry executives told the Globe last week that certain questionable chemical fillers used by marijuana companies and allowed under the regulations could turn out to be unsafe.

The commission’s regulations have long required disclosure of ingredients, but the commission has not mandated that companies list specific terpenes. But on Thursday, Collins proposed the cannabis commission require licensed companies to list the names of individual terpenes in their products and the portion they make up of the substances.

Terpenes are a broad class of aromatic chemicals that can be created in a lab or derived from marijuana and other plants.

Commissioner Shaleen Title requested that each thickener or additive — often used to adjust flavor or viscosity — also be listed. It’s unclear whether the regulations would require companies to list the source of the terpenes.


Amid the concerns, many companies have e-mailed customers in the past week to say they use only cannabis-derived or plant-derived terpenes.

Collins said he planned “a holistic approach” to address the safety fears. The steps include surveying licensed operators and labs to understand what chemicals are currently in use, whether the commission should further modify its rules, and what role testing labs can play.

Commissioner Britte McBride said she hoped the agency would collaborate with the Department of Public Health, which has mandated clinicians report possible cases of vaping-related illnesses, to learn whether any were linked to licensed marijuana stores.

Industry leaders praised the commission’s efforts as a step toward more safety and public confidence in the legal pot market. Approval of the proposed rules would be important to help people know what they’re ingesting “for both safety and consumer preference,” said Joe Gilmore, president of Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council.

“It sounds like a move in the right direction,” said Brandon Pollock, chief executive of Theory Wellness, a marijuana retailer.

The proposed rules are smart, but the commission should also consider banning flavors and testing cartridge hardware, which could leach heavy metals into vapor, said Chris Hudalla, a chemist who runs marijuana testing company ProVerde Laboratories.

“Flavorings are one of the hugest concerns for me,” Hudalla said. “When they permit things like cinnamon or banana or whatever, there could be some potential hazards.”


Naomi Martin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @NaomiMartin.