Vaping is a popular form of cannabis consumption. Indeed, vaping products account for almost thirty percent of all legal cannabis sales. In recent months, however, respiratory illnesses and even some well publicized deaths were linked to the use of these products. The Federal Drug Administration, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health partners, are investigating the cause of these illnesses. This emerging health crisis led to a decline in cannabis sales and panic within many states regarding regulation and safety. Notably, and not surprisingly, nearly all products that were linked to the illness were purchased through the illegal or black-market.
Some states reacted by banning the sale of vaping products altogether. Many within the California cannabis industry disagree with that approach because they believe that if a ban is initiated, more consumers will simply turn to the black-market where businesses likely do not comply with the comprehensive testing procedures that are required under state law.
The most effective way to fight the current vaping crisis is to ensure that all actors operate in full compliance with state requirements. Educating the consumer is also key; if consumers actively patronize licensed dispensaries over the possibly cheaper but unlicensed locations, then reliance on the black-market, which is nearly three times the size of the legal market, will decrease. Easy ways for consumers to discern the legal from the illegal include verifying a license within the dispensary prior to purchase and knowing that, generally, only debit cards and cash are accepted at licensed dispensaries.
Other steps should be taken as well. Operators in the cannabis arena should also work to expand access to consumers throughout the state of California as a whole. Although operations are legal on the state level, there are many local jurisdictions that ban cannabis businesses within their city limits. Additionally, law enforcement should be better educated to identify illicit businesses; increased enforcement efforts may then serve as a stronger deterrent to those running unlicensed operations.
Overall, in the face of the vaping health crisis, the best course of action is not to ban products entirely but rather to educate consumers, increase statewide access to legal businesses and product, and dedicate resources to law enforcement. A ban will only lead to increased reliance on the black-market, which is where these harmful products originated in the first place.