As fears of a coming marijuana shortage mount in the medical cannabis community, state leaders say there is little cause for concern.
Last month N.M. Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) Superintendent Linda Trujillo told the state’s Economic Development and Policy Committee that, regarding adult-use cannabis supplies, “It’s highly likely we will run out of cannabis in the first week, if not the first two weeks.”
Trujillo predicted the shortage based on what she called the “Krispy Kreme Effect.” When a highly anticipated business opens its doors in a new area, a massive spike in demand fueled by popular interest will lead to long lines and shortages. The RLD has reportedly met with regulators in other states that have legalized marijuana and found that shortages were ubiquitous among them, and states often run out of cannabis on the first day of sales.
But Trujillo told reporters that the potential for shortages isn’t an apocalypse scenario for weed consumers. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Trujillo said, “Just like with Krispy Kreme—where they make more doughnuts the next day or hour after—we think there will be enough cannabis in the pipeline that there will be enough for the demand.”
Some producers are still concerned, though. The Cannabis Control Division (CCD) sent a letter to medical cannabis producers earlier this year stating that the Cannabis Regulation Act barred it from accepting applications for new production facilities until regulations were finalized.
While the RLD is reportedly accepting as many producer licenses as possible, experts say they will need at least five months to cultivate and process the plants before they will be available for sale. Some producers say they are worried that there won’t be enough time to make the product if they aren’t allowed to expand their operations soon. “We’re going to have a crisis,” Ultra Health CEO Duke Rodriguez told NM Political Report. “Mathematically we cannot avoid it.”
Producers are currently allowed to grow up to 8,000 mature plants and will be able to request cap increases up to 10,000 plants, if necessary. Regulators will also require adult-use retailers to reserve a portion of their marijuana supplies strictly for medical cannabis purchases.
In a rash of serious lung injuries tied to black market THC oil cartridges created a massive vape scare that nearly shut down the e-cig industry a few years ago. Researchers believed they’d sussed out the culprit—an additive used in illegal THC cartridges—and most of the injuries stopped. But now scientists are warning that two other ingredients found in some illegal cartridges can also lead to lung injuries.
In 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 68 deaths across all 50 states associated with an acute toxic lung injury. Those afflicted have experienced shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, fever, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. The injuries resemble chemical burns. Researchers initially pointed at Vitamin E acetate added to THC cartridges as the culprit behind the lung injuries. The substance is safely used as an additive in topical treatments, and is ingested orally in the form of vitamin supplements, but it appears to be harmful when vaped.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic derailed much of the focus on the injuries, but deaths declined and the problem seemed to be gone for the most part. However, a few instances have continued to emerge. Now researchers are examining connections between the injuries and two natural ingredients found in some THC cartridges: phytol and pine rosin.
A study published in the journal Inhalation Toxicology in January found that a number of rats subjected to vaporized phytol, a grassy-smelling chemical found in many plants, died within a day of exposure. The rats were found to have severely degenerated lungs upon examination. The researchers had to stop the study because of the number of fatalities and were unable to determine a safe level of exposure.
Another study published in Forensic Science International found that a small number of illicit dealers are selling illegal cartridges containing naturally occurring pine rosin, a compound that is highly toxic to humans when inhaled and has been linked to occupational asthma.
Scientists say the only way to minimize the dangers of lung injury associated with vaping is to avoid illegally produced cartridges and only purchase your cannabis at licensed retailers.
Biden administration officials say they want to make it easier for scientists to research cannabis and other prohibited drugs.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) recently proposed changing the federal drug scheduling system to allow researchers to gain access to Schedule I drugs, including cannabis, heroin, LSD, MDMA and psilocybin. Current federal law prohibits the free study of these drugs and has labeled them as having no medical use and a high potential for abuse. The ONDCP said it wants to make registration for studying Schedule I drugs simpler.
The ONDCP said the recommendation would help promote the administration’s dedication to curbing the opioid epidemic. “By acting on these recommendations, Congress can take decisive action against the fastest growing driver of overdoses in the country, while protecting civil rights and encouraging scientific research,” said Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy Regina LaBelle. “At the same time, it is critical for Congress to fund the president’s budget request, which includes $10.7 billion to expand access to substance use prevention, treatment, harm reduction and recovery support services.”
Things are looking up for researchers interested in studying cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently announced it had begun working with manufacture applicants to produce a variety of cannabis strains for research purposes. And a federal infrastructure bill that legislators are arguing over will likely pass with an amendment intact that will require the U.S. Transportation secretary, attorney general and secretary of Health and Human Services to produce a report that will include recommendations on the creation of a national cannabis strain library for the purposes of researching marijuana impairment.
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