The Oregon Liquor Control Commission voted unanimously today to approve rules defining Gov. Kate Brown's six-month ban on flavored vaping products.
The commission approved what some in the cannabis industry most feared: a flavor ban on both artificial flavors and botanically-derived terpenes. (Terpenes are molecules that give fruits, vegetables, and plants including marijuana, their distinct flavors.)
As of Oct. 15, Oregon dispensaries will no longer be allowed to sell flavored vaping products—and will be subject to inspections from the OLCC to verify they have pulled products off the shelves. The OLCC will begin calling retailers on Oct. 11 to explain what products must be pulled.
The Oregon Health Authority adopted the same rules regarding sale of nicotine vapes, and the rules for county-controlled licensed retailers begin on Oct. 15.
If a dispensary or retailer circumvents the ban rules, they are first subject to a warning, and then can be penalized with a $500 fee per day for every banned product that remains on store shelves. If retailers fail repeatedly fail to comply they could lose their licenses.
The ban also mandates that oil and cartridge manufacturers who use botanically-derived terpenes must immediately halt the production of any of those products.
Dozens of people in the cannabis industry attended the meeting. Many of them grumbled as the commissioners unanimously voted to approve the rules.
Many oil producers and vape cartridge manufacturers use botanically-derived terpenes in their vape cartridges and had hoped such products would escape the ban.
OLCC officials provided some hope—they will be working on an exemption process for some companies selling botanically-derived terpenes. That exemption process, according to OLCC Senior Policy Advisor Danica Hibpshman, will begin by Nov. 15.
Hibpshman tells WW that the exemption process will likely include additional testing, and transparency regarding where the terpenes' origins. Hibpshman said it will be done by a "case by case basis." Commissioner Chair Paul Rosenbaum requested that every company who wishes to be granted an exemption once the process begins, must get permission from the OLCC.
But J.T. Thompson, who owns the oil extraction company Sublime Solutions, worries the exemption process will take too long and fears the testing will be costly.
"For small and medium-sized businesses like me, we might not be able to make it through," says Thompson. "I just lost 70 percent to 80 percent of my revenue."
Thompson adds botanical terpenes to the cannabis oils for about 10 cartridge companies, including one of the biggest cartridge sellers, Winberry Farms.
Thompson currently employees 25 people, but he says he will have to cut half of his staff in the coming months.
One extracts company, Naked Extracts, felt the immediate impact of the ban when it was first announced.
Its president, Mike Hanks, tells WW he was just about to ship an order of vape cartridges worth $50,000 dollars to one of the 105 dispensaries they provide to. The store told them they no longer wanted to purchase the cartridges.
"We have some fairly large orders that were ready to go with our normal flow, but they're just in our warehouse now," Hanks says.
Though Gov. Kate Brown announced her executive order on Oct. 4, there was a grace period for the cannabis and nicotine industries as the state regulatory agencies mulled over how best to define the rules against additives and flavors, and how to best go about implementing those.
T.J Sheehy, who works for the OLCC in the marijuana unit, explained that the flavor ban on the botanically-derived terpenes was necessary because terpenes "are created outside of the OLCC system and sold into them" and therefore are not regulated by any state agency.
"Quite frankly, there's no proven safety of these products, and in some cases say 'do not vaporize them,'" Sheehy said. "the purchasers of those have to take on faith from the manufacturer that they are what they say they are."
Steve Marks, director of the OLCC, said that Brown's vaping work-group will be working on devising better testing regimens in the coming months for product approval.
Rosenbaum, the OLCC commission chair, said that the agency work-group traveled around the state and talked to those in the marijuana industry about the rules. He said the group didn't wish to penalize anyone financially but reminded industry participants that public health was the OLCC's top priority.
"Public safety and public concern for the people in this state—that overrides everything," Rosenbaum said.