More than 800 cannabis industry leaders have signed onto a letter urging Congress to deschedule marijuana to mitigate the risks associated with vaping products obtained on the illicit market.
Led by the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), the letter being delivered to House and Senate leadership on Thursday argues that the recent spate of vaping-related lung injuries and deaths demonstrates the need for robust federal regulations that aren’t available because marijuana remains a federally controlled substance. It notes that a majority of these medical issues appear to be the result of using adulterated, unregulated products.
“Make no mistake, the legal state-regulated cannabis industry knows that any death is one death too many,” the letter states. “Fortunately, we have policy tools that can be employed to help limit the illicit market, implement uniform good manufacturing practices and prevent future harms.”
NCIA and its co-signers—including representatives of firms such as Berkeley Patients Group, Leafly, Weedmaps, 4Front Ventures, SPARC, Foria and Vicente Sederberg LLP—argued that the public “needs accurate and actionable information from the government, particularly about illegal, untested, and dangerous illicit market consumer products.”
Aaron Smith, NCIA’s executive director, told Marijuana Moment that “it is absolutely vital for members of Congress to understand that this vaping illness outbreak is directly tied to failed prohibition policies that support the unregulated underground market.”
“There is a reason there are no illness outbreaks related to tainted alcohol in this country: the substance is regulated at the federal and state levels, and licensed producers have almost entirely replaced bootleggers,” he said. “Descheduling cannabis products and regulating them effectively is essential to improving on successful state regulatory systems, allowing more comprehensive research, and displacing the illicit market.”
The letter lays out five policy recommendations to ensure that people aren’t exposed to dangerous and untested products.
“—Congress is urged to immediately remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and begin to sensibly regulate this substance in a manner similar to alcohol and other consumables, and to make funds immediately available to state medical authorities to investigate these cases.
“—Licensed vape cartridge producers are encouraged to halt the use, if any, of additive thickening agents until more data is available.
“—Given the preliminary reported association of some illness cases with Vitamin E acetate, any licensed producer that has included this additive in recent vape product batches is strongly encouraged to issue a voluntary recall of those products.
“—Licensed cannabis retailers are encouraged to take steps to ensure none of their available vape cartridge inventories have been sourced from a producer that uses Vitamin E acetate.
“—Cannabis vape cartridge consumers are urged to immediately cease the use of any product obtained from the illicit market and to limit any future purchases of vape cartridges and other cannabis products to state-licensed, regulated businesses.”
“Descheduling is the only way to truly reform federal cannabis policy in a sensible manner so that state regulatory programs can most successfully ensure consumer safety and to pave the way for appropriate federal regulations,” the letter argues.
Currently, marijuana remains within the purview of the Drug Enforcement Administration, rather than agencies responsible for enforcing quality control standards such as the Food and Drug Administration.
The other problem is that federal restrictions inhibits state-legal marijuana businesses from effectively competing with the illicit market, NCIA said. Removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would “ensure that unethical actors are increasingly disrupted by legitimate, responsible businesses.”
“The legal cannabis industry is extremely concerned about these reported illnesses and deaths. It is clear that the American public wants quality-controlled cannabis products made available for adults and patients. The recent news is, unfortunately, yet another reminder that there is no time to waste. Our industry wants to provide the products voters demand with a tireless focus on improving consumer safety. We are at the ready to work collaboratively with federal lawmakers, the same way we have at the state level for over a decade. Please let us know how we can help move the ball forward on descheduling legislation. Lives are literally at stake.”
NCIA, as well as the Cannabis Trade Federation, made a similar call for regulations in response to vaping issues last month, urging congressional action because existing policy prevents “federal regulatory agencies from establishing safety guidelines, discourage states from regulating cannabis, and make it more difficult for state-legal cannabis businesses to displace the illicit market.”
Smith said that the marijuana industry “is committed to ensuring the safety of cannabis consumers, and NCIA stands ready to help lawmakers and regulators do just that.”
By Kyle Jaeger