Gov. Charlie Baker has issued a temporary four-month ban on all vape products amid concerns of a vape-related lung illness. The ban includes both nicotine and marijuana products from legal shops and dispensaries. WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Shaleen Title, commissioner at the state Cannabis Control Commission, about her concerns about the ban. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: You're expressing concern that this ban could send people to the black market to find what they need?
Commissioner Shaleen Title: Yes, I am concerned. I think when we're talking about a ban of legal, regulated products, the most relevant question is, is there any evidence that's linking the illnesses with legal, regulated products? And I think the answer is no. My concern is, with the evidence showing that the dangerous products are coming from the illicit market, when we issue a ban — especially on an addictive product like e-cigarettes — we are pushing people to the illicit market, which is exactly the source of the unregulated and potentially dangerous product.
Mathieu: This is why you were approving regulations on the commission to basically provide better labeling, right? Dispensaries listing the ingredients inside those cartridges that people use in e-cigarettes and vape pens. Until we know what is in those chemicals, however, should we not be taking them off the shelves to find out?
Title: Well, if there was any evidence that a regulated marijuana vape product was linked to an illness, I think you would immediately see a response, quarantine, recall [or] a ban on the specific ingredients. We have procedures for that. And we did immediately require full disclosure of all of the ingredients and additives — active or non-active — in vape products. That's just the first step. We also need to make sure that our testing protocols that are in place are appropriate [and] that we're working with the health officials that are investigating what's causing this illness. But at this time, there is no link between regulated product and illness. So to blindly ban all of those products and push them to the illicit market, I think that actually goes against the principles of public health and harm reduction.
Mathieu: I spoke earlier with Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders [about this issue] just this morning about this potential for people to go to the black market or find some other form of marijuana, and she pointed out the fact that there are a series of choices in dispensaries, whether it's edible marijuana, topicals or some other forms where patients can get their medicine. Does that not satisfy you for the meantime?
Title: Well, the CDC has confirmed 530 cases in 38 states. Not Massachusetts yet, although I understand that's probably in progress. None of those 38 states have taken an action like this. I think it's because it's clear [that] to just assume people are going to stop using that product or switch to another product is not considering the very real potential that they will go to the readily available illicit market and potentially purchase a dangerous product. That's what I'm concerned about, as a regulator.
Mathieu: How much of a marijuana dispensary's business is vaping? Is it possible to say that? Will this cause an interruption in their business?
Title: I don't know that offhand. I do know that because of the concerns around vaping, the sales of vape products at legal regulated stores have gone down considerably, and I think that makes sense as consumers decide how they want to react. The main job for us as regulators is to make sure that the consumers have access to safe, tested product, and that if we're seeing anything that's risky [or] dangerous that we're making sure we're responding appropriately.