Oregon Enacts Temporary Six-Month Ban of Flavored Vape Products

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon regulators enacted a six-month ban Friday on the sale of flavored nicotine and cannabis vape products in stores and online statewide amid an outbreak of illnesses that has sickened nearly 1,300 people nationwide and killed 26, including two people in Oregon.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates the recreational marijuana market, voted unanimously to approve the temporary sales ban on the same day that the Oregon Health Authority, which regulates tobacco sales statewide, filed the ban with the Oregon Secretary of State.

Dozens
of marijuana processors and vape manufacturers packed the commission
room during the vote and some shouted out in frustration during a news
conference when an official said the ban would only affect 10 percent of
the cannabis vape market.

“It’s going to kill
immediately 70% of my company’s revenue. It’s based off of what we
consider faulty logic and faulty understanding” of the science behind
adding flavor to marijuana vape pens, Jason Thompson, the sales director
for Eugene, Oregon-based Sublime Solutions, said after the vote.

The
ban applies to all nicotine and cannabis vapes that contain flavoring
derived from anything except pure marijuana terpenes. Terpenes are
organic compounds that give plants and fruits their flavor or scent —
for example, the citrusy smell from an orange or the aroma of lavender.
Vape pen manufacturers add natural and artificial terpene mixes to
nicotine- or cannabis-containing oil to give the products popular
flavors, from cherry to mint to candy cane.

Earlier this month Gov. Kate Brown ordered the temporary ban. Several other states, including Washington, New York Rhode Island and Michigan, have also imposed temporary bans.

The illnesses first appeared in March, with symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain.

Federal
investigators say that nearly 80 percent of people who have come down
with the vaping illness reported using products containing THC, the
high-inducing chemical found in marijuana. They have not traced the
problem to any single product or ingredient. But investigators are
increasingly focused on thickeners and additives found in illegal THC
cartridges sold on the black market.

The
Oregon Health Authority, which is investigating nine cases of illness in
Oregon and two deaths, had asked Brown for broader six-month ban on
sale and display of all vaping products, including tobacco, nicotine and
cannabis. The agency also urged Oregonians to stop using all vaping
products until federal and state officials have determined the cause of
the illnesses.

TJ Sheehy, manager of the
OLCC’s marijuana technical unit, told commissioners before Friday’s vote
that vape brands that contain flavor compounds are “completely unknown
black boxes in terms of their contents” and that consumers have to “take
on faith” their safety.

Oregon regulators
test the marijuana oil in the vape devices for solvents and pesticides
before the terpenes are added, but the companies that make the terpenes
are outside the state regulatory system and the pens aren’t tested after
the flavoring is added, he explained. Nicotine-only vape pens undergo
even less scrutiny, officials said.

“Quite
frankly, no one buying these things knows what’s in them,” Sheehy said,
adding later that many contain so-called “fillers” that are dangerous to
inhale.

The ban goes into effect Tuesday and lasts until April 11.

Disgruntled
and worried marijuana entrepreneurs milled in the hallway after the
vote and said the sales ban would crush their businesses.

Joe
Bergen, general manager for two companies, Avitas Oregon and
Hellavated, said his sales have already dropped because of the scare
over lung illnesses and he’s had to reduce his workforce by nearly 20%.

Hellavated makes flavored marijuana vapes, while Avitas only makes vaping devices containing pure marijuana.

Hellavated
will be “heavily impacted” by the new ban, he said, and it’s unclear if
the OLCC’s move will help because the cause of the illnesses hasn’t
been determined.

“One of the things this
crisis has illuminated is that there is no long-term research on vaping
and cannabis consumption, period,” Bergen said. “There needs to be more
research into both those things.”

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