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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A mysterious vaping-related lung illness has now afflicted more than 1,000 people and killed at least 21 — and America's patchwork approach to marijuana law is probably part of the problem.

The big picture: Most of these lung illness cases involve people who vaped THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and many of those pods are believed to have come from the black market. A more cohesive regulatory scheme could help consumers know what to trust.

Health officials don't know yet whether the culprit is the liquids being vaped, their interaction with the vape pen materials, or a combination of the two. But legal, regulated products used as directed don't seem to be the primary cause.

  • Juul, for example, neither makes THC vape pods nor intends them to be used in their devices.

Where it stands: THC is a Schedule 1 drug under federal law., severely restricting scientists' and regulators' ability to study its effects.

  • But THC is legal in more than a dozen states, thanks to marijuana legalization efforts.
  • Few of those states, though, require stringent oversight of THC-specific products such as vape pods.
  • "State laws that have loosened access to cannabinoids have come at a public health cost," said former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

"Ultimately, a federal regime could make it easier to access cannabis for conducting proper studies ... At the same time, a federal regime should tighten permissive state practices that have made it far too easy for recreational marijuana to gain acceptance and for these compounds to get into the hands of kids," he added.

Yes, but: At least a few patients afflicted by the lung illness claim to have only vaped nicotine.

  • And research this week from New York University found that vaping nicotine caused lung cancer in mice, per CNBC. The researchers said vaping is likely “very harmful” to humans as well.

The bottom line: Traditional vaping gets people hooked on nicotine, and kids and teens have proven particularly vulnerable. It deserves political attention.

  • But so does an inconsistent regulatory framework that is contributing to serious, immediate dangers.

Go deeper: Special report: Weed, Inc.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. (CIRA/RAMMB)

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

Mike Allen, author of AM
7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.

Manchin, Schumer huddle with Biden in Delaware to discuss spending bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (left) and Sen. Joe Manchin at the U.S. Capitol in 2014. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will meet with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday morning in Delaware as Democrats look to reach an agreement on the massive spending measure.

Driving the news: Democrats are still negotiating what to keep in the bill and how to pay for it, with Biden saying on Thursday that the party does not have the votes to raise the corporate tax rate.