The nationwide vaping epidemic has claimed at least one life in Connecticut and some 40 more in the state are reported to be suffering from the crippling lung illness now known as EVALI. What’s more, while the marijuana industry has breathlessly tried to point the blame at the underground market, a recent report out of Massachusetts found that six cases of the illness stem from the use of products purchased in the state’s legal stores.
This bombshell revelation should be the tipping point in the debate over marijuana legalization and begin a real pushback from public health officials nationwide.AdvertisementPlay Video
Today’s marijuana isn’t Woodstock Weed. And its commercialization has led to widespread normalization, which has allowed the pot vaping crisis to spread. This isn’t a case of legal versus illegal vapes. Rather, it’s an issue of widespread marketing and ad campaigns telling millions of teenagers, pregnant women and others that marijuana is both socially acceptable and relatively harmless.
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Furthermore, health officials have consistently recommended that people refrain from using all THC vaping products, and not specific subsets such as those found on the illicit market. So why do the industry and its advocates continue to divert the conversation, claiming only illegal drug dealers are to blame? To protect their bottom line, of course.
From the beginning, proponents of legal marijuana have argued the pot vaping crisis is solely an issue of the illicit market. When presented with evidence that illnesses and deaths occurred from legal, regulated products — like in Oregon and now Massachusetts — they demurred.
Lost in the discussion over the current crisis is the fact that marijuana vaping devices – even in “legal” states – have already been found to contain heavy metals and other contaminants harmful to health. Reports of such harms are swept under the rug, and the products are then sold to an unwitting consumer base that’s, unfortunately, none the wiser.
Advocates will argue that legal markets can regulate the problem, but in California, where marijuana is legal, illicit markets still thrive. Licensed and “regulated” operators will funnel their products to illegal pop-up shops and street corners to create new avenues for profit, as one vape manufacturer was recently found to be doing.
To think that federal legalization will end the scourge of the illicit market, one only needs to look to Canada to realize how mistaken that sentiment can be. Although the country legalized marijuana last year, over 40 percent of consumers continue to purchase from illicit markets. Experts estimate that illegal sales are worth an average of $6 billion more than those that come through regulated channels.[Opinion] My son survived Sandy Hook. It’s changed me as a parent. »
Finally, in an attempt to redirect the conversation, many advocates have latched onto other culprits in the pot vaping crisis, such as Vitamin E acetate. And although Vitamin E may have something to do with many cases, researchers from the Mayo Clinic have pointed out that some cases of the illness resemble chemical burns, keeping the root cause up in the air.
Regardless, in legal states like California, Vitamin E acetate is a legal product for which regulators don’t even test.
The truth is we need more investigation no matter what the chemical culprit because the bottom line is that marijuana promotion is costing people’s lives.
Commercialized marijuana, which has been normalized by a for-profit addiction industry, is at the heart of the pot vaping crisis. We need media campaigns, evidence-based interventions and industry accountability urgently. It’s time to put the public health of the people first.
Highly potent marijuana is the elephant in the nation’s living room. How much longer can we afford to ignore it?
Dr. Kevin Sabet is a former three-time White House drug policy advisor and currently serves as president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana