Amid lung injuries, Michigan to halt caregiver-supplied marijuana vaping products

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan regulators no longer will allow the caregivers of medical marijuana patients to supply licensed businesses with vape cartridges. The decision, which was announced Thursday, came during a nationwide outbreak of lung injuries.

Nine days earlier, Michigan's Marijuana Regulatory Agency recalled more than 64,000 cartridges that originated with caregivers and failed newly required testing for vitamin E acetate, an additive that's been linked to the injuries.

A vitamin E acetate sample.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tracked more than 2,500 vaping-related lung injuries and 54 deaths nationally. In Michigan, there have been 64 tracked cases and two deaths.

The CDC refers to the injuries as "e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injuries" or EVALI. Health officials have tied injuries to vitamin E acetate, which, because of its thickness, has been used as a cutting agent in marijuana vaping products.

Vitamin E acetate doesn't cause harm when used as a vitamin supplement or in skin creams. But when inhaled, it "may interfere with normal lung functioning," according to the CDC.

The Detroit News reported on Nov. 11 that vitamin E acetate was a legal additive in Michigan's marijuana program and that some in the industry thought the state should change that. On Nov. 22, the Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced emergency rules to administratively ban the use of vitamin E acetate as an additive and to retest all marijuana vaping products on sale in the state for the additive.

That testing led to the recall of more than 64,000 cartridges that were found to contain the chemical compound, about 60,000 of which hadn't gone up for sale yet. The recalled cartridges originated with medical marijuana caregivers, according to the state. Caregivers primarily provide marijuana to individual patients but have been allowed to supplement Michigan's licensed marijuana industry.

On Thursday, the Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued a bulletin announcing that as of March, licensed businesses will be able to obtain only marijuana flower from caregivers, not cartridges used for vaping. Marijuana flower is described as "bud, shake and trim only," according to the bulletin. 

Under the policy, regulators won't allow caregivers to supply licensed businesses with vape cartridges, edibles, distillate and other marijuana products.

The new bulletin effectively terminated a March 2019 resolution from the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, a board that no longer exists.

David Harns, spokesman for the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, called the Thursday bulletin "part of the natural evolution." Concerns about extracted products from "unregulated sources" informed the decision, Harns said.

The cartridges in question contain THC, the "compound of marijuana that produces the high," according to the CDC.

Vaping, which involves heating products to create vapors that can be inhaled, is a popular way to use marijuana. Marijuana retailers in Michigan have said that demand for the cartridges has remained strong despite the lung injuries and recommendations from state health officials that residents refrain from using marijuana vaping products.

Many in the marijuana industry have said products in the illicit market, where there is no testing, are much more dangerous than products in Michigan's regulated market.

While some people are concerned about the injuries, other customers believe the concerns about products in the regulated market are "overblown," said Al Moroz, manager of Ann Arbor retailer Arbors Wellness.