Responding to Vaping-Relating Lung Illnesses and Cannabis Industry Trends

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When you can’t anticipate a crisis, the only thing left to do is respond honestly and thoughtfully.

November 1, 2019

When you can’t anticipate a crisis, the only thing left to do is respond honestly and thoughtfully.

That’s what we learned from the outbreak of vaping-related illnesses that, as of press time, Oct. 28, has sickened more than 1,600 people and killed 34. While there are many risks that cannabis cultivators can prepare for, the ramifications for legal, licensed operators of the crisis were not necessarily predictable. However, there are lessons to be learned.

Continuing to be committed to quality and safety—and demonstrating that to the public by publishing third-party test results and ingredients—is something legal operators are already doing, but it is even more important for the highly scrutinized cannabis industry, especially in the midst of a vaping illness crisis, when products from licensed operators upheld to incredibly strict guidelines are compared to those from illicit producers.

Responses from industry stakeholders and state leaders to this devastating and still unexplained spate of lung injuries have varied as much as state laws guiding the consumption of medical and adult-use cannabis. State actions include implementing bans of all vape product sales, despite reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that “products containing THC, particularly those obtained off the street or from other informal sources … are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak,” and requiring licensees to disclose all compounds and ingredients, an approach that many cannabis companies took prior to the outbreak. An overview of what we know and how various entities have responded is included in this issue.

The Green Organic Dutchman, the subject of this month’s cover story, has prioritized organic cannabis cultivation, and executives noted that their efforts to communicate their stringent growing practices correspond with consumers’ increasing preference to know where their food, plants and other products come from.

Listing product ingredients is also increasingly important to consumers. Instead of focusing on indica and sativa labels, a panel of experts at the 2019 Cannabis Conference argued that the industry should instead do more research on the nuanced effect that cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids have and also spell that out for consumers.

Also in this issue, columnist Kenneth Morrow explores terpene extraction processes and their impact on health and product quality.

The latest Gallup poll, conducted in early October amid the vaping crisis, revealed that two-thirds of Americans favored making cannabis use legal, holding steady with 2018 results. Though the country continues to regulate cannabis on a state and municipal basis, the industry can prepare for the inevitable scrutiny this crisis and federal legalization will bring by doubling down on its quality standards, implementing the highest manufacturing practices and keeping that process as open and transparent as possible.