State ends appeal in medical cannabis recall

State health officials have dropped a legal action seeking to reinstate their controversial recall of medical marijuana vapes.

  • The move before the state Supreme Court doesn’t end the legal fight. It simply means the Department of Health is no longer appealing a lower-court ruling that put the recall on hold
  • Nonetheless, it was welcomed by the medical cannabis industry.
  • “It certainly can be interpreted to mean that the Department of Health doesn’t believe that it’s the health emergency that they had claimed it was,” said Judith Cassel, an attorney with Harrisburg-based Hawke McKeon & Sniscak. She represents Medical Marijuana Access & Patient Safety, a nonprofit coalition of companies that grow and process medical cannabis.

How did this start: The state ordered a recall in February after reviewing ingredients in vape products for medical cannabis,

  • The products contain additives known as terpenes. At the time of the recall, they represented more than a third of the products on the market.
  • The industry coalition sued in response and won an early victory in Commonwealth Court: A preliminary injunction suspending the recall.
  • In June, health officials asked the state Supreme Court to block the injunction but they dropped the appeal earlier this week.
  • The appeal initially restored the recall but a follow-up ruling put it back on ice.
  • Efforts to reach the health department were not successful.

What are terpenes: Naturally occurring chemicals found in plants but most often associated with cannabis.

  • Processors add terpenes from other plants to vaporized cannabis products. The additives enhance the flavor and aroma of medical cannabis, making it easier to inhale.
  • When the recall was ordered in February, state officials told patients and caregivers that the ingredients had not been approved for inhalation by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • The coalition lawsuit argues that terpenes meet other safety standards set under state law, that industry testing shows the ingredients are safe, and that no patients or caregivers have ever complained about them.
  • The recall, the lawsuit added, would cost companies millions of dollars.

What’s next: The underlying case — which challenges state officials’ authority to order the recall — will continue to play out in Commonwealth Court.

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