On December 27th, 2020, the U.S. Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The act is a COVID-19 relief bill, which according to cannabis tech and vape brand, DaVinci, has unintentionally “attacked” the rights of medical cannabis patients and limits their access to the plant.
Shauntel Ludwig, vice president of operations at DaVinci discussed with Emerald via email the potential harms the new law might have on the cannabis industry.
What is the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021?
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 authorized $12 billion in COVID-19 relief funding. The act combines different legislation, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), and the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act, otherwise known as S. 1253 or the Vape Mail Ban.
S. 1253’s intention is to prevent underage smoking. It applies safeguards already in place for cigarettes to smokeless tobacco and online sales of e-cigarettes. It took effect on March 28th, according to Ludwig.
Ludwig explained that preventing underage smoking is “a mission we all support.”
However, the bill amends the Jenkins Act, which included restrictions on mailing Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS). ENDS are electronic devices that deliver nicotine, flavor, or any other substance to users when they inhale from the device.
According to Ludwig, the bill heavily affects medical cannabis patients in rural areas, especially those who are disabled or unable to travel and therefore rely on the postal system to deliver their medicine.
In addition, S. 1253 might also harm cannabis businesses, as it eliminates the USPS exceptions for business-to-business (B2B) mailing of non-nicotine devices. Consequently, the law makes selling cannabis vape products to dispensaries more costly and difficult.
Though companies can use regional carriers, the coverage they offer only reaches around 60% of U.S. zip codes. Those zip codes are predominantly in metropolitan areas, according to Ludwig.
Opponents of the Vape Mail Ban
At the moment, 36 states have some type of medical cannabis statute in place, Ludwig explained. “‘[The new law], although presumably unintentional, limits the choice of ingestion methods—specifically anything surrounding vaporization.”
“And for states such as Ohio, whose cannabis laws mandate that cannabis flower cannot be smoked, but must be vaporized, this act may severely restrict patient access,” Ludwig continued.
Opponents of the Vape Mail Ban, which include consumer safety organizations, agree with Ludwig. For instance, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) described the legislation as “misguided.”
The non-profit urged legislators to oppose the bill in a letter to House Republicans. In it, they state:
“[Vape] products have saved countless lives and offer an “exit ramp” off of combustible cigarettes responsible for millions of deaths and ailments each year. Making these products non-mailable would be a disaster for public health and further compromise the troubled finances of the USPS […] which is already facing unfunded liabilities in excess of $160 billion.”
While other ingestion methods exist, several studies show that vaping helps smokers quit cigarettes. In fact, one New England Journal of Medicine study finds that e-cigs are twice as effective as other quitting aids like patches when it comes to helping smokers quit.
The Dark Side of the bill — will the bill kill?
“[The bill] severely limits the ability for patients to access any CBD or hemp products, which have been deemed legal and mailable by the Farm Bill,” Ludwig said.
Not only would the Vape Mail Ban limit a patient’s access to medical cannabis products via mail; it also limits access to vape products in retail shops, explains the nonprofit, Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA).
CASAA further states that “this is not an all-out ban on online sales.” However, “most small vapor businesses do not have the infrastructure or ability to comply with these rigorous requirements,” the association adds. “For the few who do, it would raise the cost of purchasing vapor products for people who depend on being able to have safer alternatives delivered to their door by requiring signature on delivery.”
Furthermore, banning vape mail forces companies to rely on more expensive carriers. CASAA and Ludwig both note that these carriers do not reach a large percentage of Americans in rural areas.
“Not all consumers of vapor products have access to brick and mortar stores due to their health, disabilities, or even their location,” writes CASAA.
Ten Steps Backwards
“We’re going backwards [with the bill] because, as an industry, we’ve worked extremely hard to get where we’re at today,” Ludwig explained. “Think back to the War on Drugs and look at how far we’ve come since then. As federal legalization looms, this law is just taking ten steps backwards because it’s an attack on medical patients’ rights and access.”
Restricting access to cannabis has proven detrimental to the lives of medical cannabis patients. Take Musa Pedersen’s story for instance. The 16-year-old boy unfortunately died after officials restricted his access to CBD.
Though the potential harms of the new bill seem unintentional, there is no doubt that it could affect patients. As of now, only time will tell whether the bill kills.