After a months-long investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Health banned all cannabis products containing additives that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Initially, the state issued a recall of over 600 products like inhalable vape flavors used in vape cartridges. State officials began recalling these listed products last week, giving notices to patients and caregivers.
“The Department recently conducted a statewide review of all vaporized medical marijuana products containing added ingredients. After finishing this review, the Department has determined that certain vaporized medical marijuana products containing some added ingredients have not been approved for inhalation by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” the Department of Health wrote in that notice.
The notice also added, “Although some of these added ingredients may be considered safe in other non-inhaled products, patient safety is the top priority of the Medical Marijuana Program. Therefore, the Department has issued a mandatory recall for all affected vaporized products.”
The department has upgraded that recall to a ban in less than a week.
This move has confused cannabis activists.
Meredith Buettner is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, an organization that represents growers and medical dispensary owners.
Buettner told the Pittsburgh City Paper that since it is not the role of the FDA to approve these additives, it does not make sense for Pennsylvania to have a ban.
Since the agency does not need to approve the additives for any state, Buettner argues that “the state is trying to apply a standard that does not exist.”
There is also concern about how this move could affect the booming medical marijuana industry.
Since medical legalization, Pennsylvania’s market has grown exponentially, with $2 billion in sales generated since 2018.
A lawyer for the Pittsburgh-based firm Leech, Tishman, Fuscaldo, & Lampl, Michael Sampson, believes it “is likely to have widespread operational and financial ripple effects.”
Dispensaries risk losing customers who rely on the banned products and losing inventory in the recall. Suppliers and manufacturers could focus their marketing and promotions to other states, hurting the medical cannabis sector.
Another point of contention is that this decision could push patients towards the illegal market.
There was an outbreak of a lung disease several years ago that was linked to similar products to the ones recalled, yet patients had purchased all the products from the illegal market.
Buettner is concerned that patients will seek these illegal operators if they cannot get the medical cannabis products to treat their illnesses.
The question is that the health department is banning products that have not been linked to disease and pushing customers towards potentially harmful products.
The lack of communication is perhaps the most frustrating to Pennsylvania’s cannabis advocates. The health department has yet to release any concrete evidence or findings from the investigation.
The health department’s notice gave no alternatives to patients, and it seems the department is solely relying on dispensaries to help their customers navigate the recall/ban. With little information, organizations like Buettner’s are considering their next steps to address the ban.
More time is needed to see the economic repercussions of the ban and hear from the health department about specific reasoning.
Until then, the most significant concerns are with medical cannabis patients in Pennsylvania.
Recalls and bans of products that add to consumers’ quality of life can cause panic and uncertainty, and no doubt some patients are feeling that now.
In the words of Buettner, “the Department of Health has done folks a real disservice here.”
Pennsylvania has been considered a state with strong bipartisan support for improving patients’ lives, yet this ban seems to have done the opposite. Time will tell if patients will get the help they need despite the ban.