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Michigan fails to protect marijuana consumers from additive linked to lung illness


Counterfeit cannabis vaping products. - NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
  • New York State Department of Health
  • Counterfeit cannabis vaping products.

The Michigan agency tasked with overseeing legal marijuana sales has not taken action to protect consumers from vitamin E acetate, the chemical additive linked to the deadly lung illness linked to vaping.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday identified vitamin E acetate as a "very strong culprit" in the lung injuries that have killed 40 people and sickened more than 2,050 others.

In response, some states, including Ohio, have banned the additive from their marijuana industries.

"While Vitamin E acetate is not currently prohibited, we are working closely with our partners in public health to decide if any changes are needed to further protect patients and consumers," Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency spokesman David Hearns tells Metro Times.

Vitamin E acetate is a popular way to "cut" or dilute cannabis oil in vape cartridges to maximize profits in the black market.

It’s unclear how prevalent vitamin E acetate is in Michigan’s legal market because manufacturers of vape cartridges are not required to test for it or reveal ingredients. But dispensary operators interviewed by Metro Times said they don’t sell products with additives like vitamin E acetate.

Michigan’s lack of action stands in stark contrast to how Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has handled nicotine vaping. Michigan became the first state to ban flavored nicotine vaping products in October.

Don Bailey, a former member of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, said Michigan should have banned vitamin E acetate over the summer when health officials began suspecting the additive was to blame for the outbreak.

"That should have been done within the first week of them identifying vitamin E acetate as a likely cause," Bailey told The Detroit News.

Black-market THC cartridges are easy to find in Michigan because the state has done little to address the proliferation of illicit delivery services that advertise on websites and apps such as WeedMaps and Craigslist. A Google search for marijuana delivery services in Michigan lists dozens of websites that illegally sell untested vape cartridges in legit-looking packaging under the names "Chronic Carts," "Dank Vapes," "Fruity Pebbles," "Dr. Zodiak," "Exotic Carts," and "Fwaygo."

Many of the brands are fake, and some were used by patients who have become seriously ill.

Dispensary owners said the state should do more to curb the black market.

"The CDC’s announcement highlights the urgent need for Michigan to crack down on bad actors and black market operators who are selling untested, dangerous products and passing it off as medicine," Michael Elias, CEO of Michigan Pure Med and Common Citizen, said in a statement. "There have been more than 2,000 vaping-related lung injuries and more than three dozen deaths because of harmful cutting-agents found in illicit vape products, and this is unacceptable, which is why we need stronger enforcement of the illicit cannabis market."

Michigan has documented 46 confirmed or probable cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, and one person has died.

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