Marijuana

The Wall Street Journal Blames Marijuana Legalization for Vaping-Related Lung Injuries, a Black-Market Hazard

The main danger to vapers is illicit cannabis extracts of unknown provenance and composition.

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Demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of how black markets work, a Wall Street Journal editorial blames marijuana legalization for vaping-related lung injuries involving illicit cannabis extracts. "A surge in vaping related lung illnesses this year caught the medical community by surprise, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting more than 2,500 lung illnesses and 54 deaths," the Journal says. "This is another reminder that America is undertaking a risky social experiment by legalizing and especially destigmatizing cannabis, and the potential effects are hard to foresee or control."

Since those lung illnesses overwhelmingly involve black-market marijuana products, the lesson from the outbreak is exactly the opposite of the one the Journal draws. The CDC's map of cases shows they are concentrated in states where marijuana remains illegal for recreational use, including Florida, Illinois (where legal recreational sales do not begin until next week), Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah. The one major exception is California, where illegal dealers still account for nearly three-quarters of the market, thanks to heavy taxes, licensing delays, onerous regulations, and local bans.

The CDC itself highlights the dangers of THC vapes obtained from "informal sources like friends, family, or in-person or online dealers." In a CDC survey reported last month, 96 percent of patients who developed respiratory symptoms after vaping THC said they had obtained the products "informally." While two people in Oregon died after vaping THC cartridges they said they had bought from state-licensed shops, those are exceptions to the general pattern. The main problem is a black market in which consumers do not know the provenance and composition of the products they are buying.

In a legal market, it is much easier to guard against potential hazards. Legal manufacturers tell consumers the ingredients in their vapes, and they are liable for fraud if they lie. Marijuana regulators in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have banned the use of vitamin E acetate, a cutting and thickening agent strongly implicated in the lung injuries. State-licensed laboratories in places where marijuana is legal can test products for that ingredient and other potentially harmful additives or contaminants. Vitamin E acetate, which the CDC has found in nearly all of the lung fluid samples from patients it has tested, is a relatively new additive that started showing up in illegal THC cartridges this year, which coincides with the recent outbreak.

The Journal's reasoning, in short, is completely backward. By the same logic, the hazards of black-market booze, such as government-mandated poison in diverted industrial ethanol, would have counted as an argument against repealing alcohol prohibition.

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  1. “This is another reminder that America is undertaking a risky social experiment by legalizing and especially destigmatizing cannabis, and the potential effects are hard to foresee or control.”

    Oh, FFS! What are the editors of the WSJ smoking? However, I foresee the end of people paying any heed to their published crap.

    1. This is not stupidity, but an evil misrepresentation of facts. I guess the vested interests behind the editors don’t like legalization and are prepared to spread lies for that. A bad sign for a newspaper that is supposed to report facts.

  2. “This is another reminder that America is undertaking a risky social experiment by legalizing and especially destigmatizing free speech, due process, and arms and the potential effects are hard to foresee or control.”

    – Signed British Parliament

  3. Paywalled so I don’t know what the article really says, but there is an argument to be made regarding the cultural discourse. The science is not settled. We don’t know if marijuana has adverse health effects. We already know some of its negative health effects, such as lessened development of grey matter, induced schizophrenia, psychosis, paranoia, etc. That’s part of why legalization and research is so necessary and important.

    No amount of deleterious health effects could ever serve as a valid argument to ban weed (or anything for that matter), but the portion of the article that I can see very clearly critiques the “celebration” and “social acceptance” of use, not the legalization. Legalization is just a part of the process; the author very clearly highlighted “destigmatization” over legalization. When it comes to promotion of culture and ease of access via vaping, I can see the cause for concern. Just like you wouldn’t want people to start vaping because they weren’t told that nicotine is harmful on its own, you wouldn’t want someone to start using weed products before they understand the potential risks.

    1. I agree people should get information on drugs before taking them but I wouldn’t go to any publication that decries legalization (which that sentence does do, same problem w/ paywall). I used Erowid back in my youth to get the skinny on the drugs, I was interested in using. WSJ isn’t were I would go for unbiased opinions on the harm and delights of illicit drugs.

    2. Hmmmm, all of the terrible negative health effects you list for pot, most of them fallacies, can also be attributed to the over use of alcohol. There will always be those who are susceptible to any of the listed maladies by over using any product. To deny the use of pot to the 99.9% who will use it in moderation makes no sense. If this thinking is right in your mind, you must be for banning alcohol from the poor unwashed masses! I’m an adult that has so far managed to live and prosper while smoking an occasional joint and enjoying a nice single malt scotch!

  4. “This is another reminder that America is undertaking a risky social experiment by legalizing and especially destigmatizing cannabis, and the potential effects are hard to foresee or control.”

    What’s wrong with stigmatizing cannabis use? I’m all for legalizing ownership/use/commerce of all classes of property, other than human slaves, but I shouldn’t have to approve of your choices.

  5. Can’t find list of WSJ’s major advertisers but pretty sure pharma’s near top and they definitely are against herbal FREEDOM.

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