ALBANY — An advocacy group fighting the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York said Tuesday state leaders should immediately suspend the dispensing of cannabis-infused vaping products at medical clinics.
The plea came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the death last weekend of a 17-year-old Bronx youth who experienced respiratory illness in September, only to be discharged from a hospital and then falling ill again.
It was the state's first death attributed to vaping, bringing the national death toll to 21 people in 18 states.
While the governor provided no information on the nature of the product used by the victim, his death is believed to be linked to vaping cartridges containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, the New York Post, citing confidential sources, reported.
The recording of New York's first vaping death prompted Smart Approaches to Marijuana's New York branch to call for an immediate halt of marijuana vaping products at medical marijuana facilities.
Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of SAM, urged Cuomo to "immediately take action to discover the source of the device responsible for this young man’s death, remove all THC vapes from marijuana dispensaries, and halt any and all efforts to legalize the commercialization of marijuana in New York state."
The state has experienced a total of 110 vaping-related lung illnesses associated with vaping this year, officials said.
A Cuomo spokesman, Jason Conwall, noted the marijuana vaping products available at medical dispensaries in New York are "rigorously tested" and only available to certified patients. He said there has been no known adverse impacts from their use.
"These products are not available to the general public and until we know more, it would not be fair to take them away from thousands of patients and potentially drive many of them to the black market," Conwall said.
Cuomo, speaking to reporters in New York City, called the wave of lung impairments from vaping a "public health crisis" and lashed out at President Donald Trump, asserting the federal government has not adequately responded to growing e-cigarette illnesses
Colton Grace, a spokesman for SAM, contended states such as New York should have ample warning about what he said are the dangers of cannabis vaping following the deaths of two people in Oregon who suffered respiratory ailments after using "tested and legal" vape products with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Grace noted there have also been non-fatal respiratory illnesses caused by legal marijuana vaping products in Maryland.
The CDC has signaled that most of the vaping-related fatalities involve people who used THC products.
In New York, patients participating in the state's medical marijuana program cannot obtain marijuana in flower form but can get prescriptions for THC vaping products as well as marijuana in edible form.
Patrick McCarthy, a lobbyist for the New York medical cannabis industry, said the THC vaping products available to New York patients in the program undergo testing at a state Health Department laboratory before they are dispensed to those with prescriptions.
McCarthy suggested untested products on the black market have been the core issue in the wave of health problems.
Jill Montague, spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said while no illnesses in New York have been linked to medical cannabis vaping products, her agency "out of an abundance of caution" is urging patients to consult with care providers on alternatives to vaping products while the state investigation moves forward.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org