Oct 9, 2019

How marijuana laws may be contributing to vaping illnesses

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

Updated 2 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Esper catches White House off guard with opposition to military use, photo op

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a press briefing Wednesday that he does not currently support invoking the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that permits the president to use active-duty troops on U.S. soil, in order to quell protests against racial injustice.

Why it matters: President Trump threatened this week to deploy military forces if state and local governments aren't able to squash violent protests. Axios reported on Tuesday that Trump is backing off the idea for now, but that he hasn't ruled it out.

Updates: George Floyd protests continue for 9th day

Demonstrators march on Pennsylvania Avenue on June 3. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Largely peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Wednesday, marking nine straight days of demonstrations.

The latest: As several major cities moved to lift curfews, NYPD officers "aggressively" dispersed large crowds in Brooklyn and Manhattan beyond New York City's 8 p.m. curfew, per the New York Times. The National Guard was stationed outside many protests Wednesday night, including in Hollywood and Atlanta.

Trump hits back at Mattis: "I gave him a new life"

President Trump speaks at the White House. Photo: Doug Mills - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump unloaded on his former defense secretary via Twitter on Wednesday, hours after James Mattis condemned him for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in his response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

What he's saying: "Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was 'Chaos', which I didn’t like, & changed it to 'Mad Dog'"