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— More than three-quarters of patients suffering from vaping-related illnesses reported using THC products, according to the CDC. But a leading cannabis industry group warned that state actions intended to curb vaping could unwittingly push individuals into the more dangerous black market.
— National cannabis trade organization NCIA says “deschedule, don’t reschedule” in regulatory white paper. POLITICO has an exclusive look at the white paper in today and Tuesday’s newsletters.
— Multi-state cannabis companies are taking corporate steps on equity. Harvest Health & Recreation is partnering with local prison reentry organizations to offer job training and employment opportunities at its dispensaries.
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FEDS FOCUS ON THC VAPES AS SOURCE OF MOST ILLNESSES — A federal investigation into vaping-related illnesses and deaths is increasingly focused on THC vapes.
More than three in four patients reported using products containing THC, with or without nicotine, while 16 percent reported exclusively using nicotine products, according to the latest national data from CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. A second CDC study focused on Illinois and Wisconsin found 87 percent of patients in those states reported using THC-containing products, POLITICO’s Brianna Ehley reports.
CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat on a call with reporters advised people to consider “refraining from the use of vaping products, particularly those containing THC,” marking the first time officials have specifically warned against the use of the substance. Officials previously have said they believed most of the illnesses were linked to black market vaping products.
What’s the scope of the outbreak? More than 800 people have been sickened and 14 have died, according to the CDC and state reports.
What are states doing? Washington became the latest state to announce a ban on flavored vaping products. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order directing the health department to implement the ban, which will apply to products that contain either nicotine or THC. New York, Michigan and Rhode Island have issued similar bans on flavored products. Massachusetts has gone the farthest by prohibiting sales of all vaping products for four months.
Unintended consequences? The National Cannabis Industry Association warned that states may be unwittingly pushing individuals into the illicit vaping market, even though evidence increasingly points to those black market products as the culprit in the vast majority of illnesses. NCIA pointed to a report by NBC News, which found that almost all illicit-market THC vaping products tested contained potentially dangerous contaminants, while none of the products bought through state-legal retailers tested positive for those substances.
“We hope states and localities think twice before repeating the mistakes of prohibition, and we strongly urge consumers to avoid illicit market products and only purchase regulated cannabis products at licensed retail establishments,” NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith said.
DESCHEDULING, NOT RESCHEDULING — That’s what a new white paper from the National Cannabis Industry Association says is the best way to approach marijuana legalization. The white paper will be available to the public on Wednesday, but POLITICO has an early look.
What is rescheduling? Rescheduling is one strategy mentioned on Capitol Hill to increase access to marijuana research without legalizing it completely. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug — the same classification as heroin — under the Controlled Substances Act. But there are four other schedules, each with their own legal regulations. If marijuana were rescheduled to Schedule II or III, for example, it would then be subject to looser regulations and research would immediately become easier.
Who is talking about it? Just last week, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) suggested doing this, telling POLITICO, “I would like to see marijuana moved from Schedule I so we could actually evaluate what its contraindications are and what the actual level of dosages are.”
NCIA says that rescheduling, though, would force users in legal states to get medical prescriptions. Schedule II includes substances such as Adderall, Ritalin and OxyContin. Schedule III includes Tylenol with codeine and ketamine. All of these require medical prescriptions — and theoretically, re-listing marijuana alongside any of these would require marijuana to be treated as such.
In its white paper, NCIA says “rescheduling would actually create more problems than it would solve,” because recreational use of flower or edibles would still not be legal and companies would need FDA drug approval for every product.
We’ll have the full low-down on NCIA’s regulatory white paper — which outlines a full federal regulatory structure for a post-legalization world — Tuesday.
Markey denied that his newfound enthusiasm for marijuana legalization bills has anything to do with the stiff primary challenge he faces from Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) when he was asked about it by POLITICO’s Stephanie Murray, at an event Saturday in Lawrence, Mass. “I supported legalization here in Massachusetts,” Markey told Stephanie, “and I support it nationally as long as it benefits all communities.”
CONNECTICUT BOARD: EXPAND MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROGRAM — Connecticut’s Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians recommended that the state add chronic pain and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to its medical marijuana program, WFSB reported. The program now accepts more than 30 medical conditions.
Why is this important? The vast majority of medical marijuana patients use it to treat chronic pain. A study published earlier this year using data from medical marijuana programs in 20 states found that chronic pain accounted for 62.2 percent of the total patient-reported qualifying conditions.
The Connecticut board’s recommendation still needs approval from a legislative committee. But if other states are any indication, its medical marijuana program stands to grow significantly with the addition of chronic pain.
HARVEST TO LAUNCH RE-ENTRY PROGRAM — Multi-state cannabis company Harvest Health & Recreation is the latest cannabis company to create an initiative aimed at supporting communities targeted by drug enforcement. Last week, POLITICO California’s Alex Nieves reported on a wave of major cannabis companies launching such initiatives, including delivery platform Eaze. Harvest plans to partner with local prison reentry organizations to offer job training to individuals reentering the workplace and provide employment opportunities at its dispensaries.
Advocates are looking beyond jobs: At an expungement event in New York last week, activists discussed how social equity initiatives should go beyond job opportunities. “We’re always like, ‘Oh, go get that good job, but it’s always working for someone else, right?,” said Pilar DeJesus, co-founder of a cannabis consumer-worker cooperative. “If we legalize [marijuana], there’s intergenerational wealth that could come from that.”
MICHIGAN JUDGE STRIKES DOWN BALLOT LAW — A judge struck down a law on Friday that would make it harder for petitions to make it onto the ballot. Last November, voters in Michigan took to the ballot box to legalize marijuana, alongside other Democrat-backed initiatives to create an independent redistricting commission and make it easier for people to vote. Just a month later, the Republican-controlled legislature approved a law to limit the number of signatures a ballot drive can count from a single district.
GW PHARMACEUTICALS STUDYING CANNABIS FOR AUTISM — The director of Montefiore Hospital’s autism program Dr. Eric Hollander is leading a clinical trial to investigate medical marijuana for autism, CNN reports. The CBDV medication is developed by GW Pharmaceuticals, the same drug manufacturer that produces Epidiolex, the first FDA-approved cannabis-derived drug. The study plans to follow 100 patients for 12 weeks of treatment.
Jonathan Clark is joining Maryland medical cannabis company Culta as CFO. He was previously CFO at the restaurant chain CAVA.
— Dr. Sanjay Gupta helped popularize CBD when he released the documentary Weed on CNN in 2013. Now, he revisits the compound and examines how we’re “in an age of wisdom, but also an age of foolishness” when it comes to cannabis.
— You’ve tried picking your own berries, why not your own hemp?
— Gym rats are turning to marijuana to address pain, stave off boredom and address small muscle groups requiring repetitive movements.