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Cannabis oil cartridges soon to be available at dispensaries

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    Nugs of marijuana.

Marijuana dispensaries are preparing to sell cannabis oil cartridges starting next week so that patients can legally take the drug through vaping.

“It’s one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis. It’s discreet, it doesn’t smell,” said Helen Cho, spokeswoman for Aloha Green Apothecary in Honolulu. “Dosing is a little easier. Come July 1 we’ll be able to just sell the cartridges themselves.”

The bill authorizing the sale of cannabis cartridges is under review by Gov. David Ige but is set to take effect. The measure also requires the state Department of Health to create an out-of-state patient registration process, which the department says will start in the spring.

While vaping is not a new way to consume pakalolo, the state’s approval of pre-filled marijuana cartridges for use in vaping devices runs counter to the Health Department’s strong stance against smoking and e-cigarette use — so popular among Hawaii adults and teens that it has been characterized as a public health concern.

Medical marijuana was legalized in Hawaii in 2000, but patients had no legal way to obtain the drug until the opening of dispensaries last year, after a law establishing them was passed in 2015.

“It’s a big deal for the industry because now we can sell in cartridge format something that the black market has been doing for many years already,” said Tai Cheng, president of Aloha Green Apothecary at 1314 S. King St. “For most patients who need relief from symptoms, they don’t have the time to roll a joint or find a pipe or prepare their medicine. This is a lot quicker, a lot easier and much more convenient.”

Vaping cannabis is safer than smoking dried marijuana without any filtration, which could lead to the inhalation of particulates into the lungs, he added. Typically, e-cigarettes also have artificial ingredients — flavors, coloring — that could potentially be harmful to health.

“The biggest issue the state is facing public health-wise is cancer, as well as the safety of the e-cigarette liquid itself. It’s been a big thing for the DOH and Legislature to come to that conclusion that vaping cannabis oil is not the same as smoking cigarettes or vaping e-cigarettes because of the medical benefits of cannabis versus the health consequences of nicotine,” Cheng said. “Nicotine is a much more addictive drug. The problem is it looks the same. The department was worried it would encourage people to move to e-cigarettes. They don’t want people to develop a habit and get sick with this e-liquid. So far there’s no evidence to say vaporizing cannabis oil will cause cancer.”

There are a variety of what the Health Department refers to as “safe pulmonary administration devices,” some of which look like pens with a battery attached to heat the cartridge at low temperatures with no combustion or burning to prevent smoke that can irritate the lungs and lead to other health conditions.

“DOH will require dispensaries to use the correct statutory language and to not use the word vaping as a descriptor in their retail location, on their websites or on their sales receipts,” said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo. “These are considered to be safer than ‘vaping’ devices, which is why we do not refer to the cartridges as vaping. And the cartridges cannot contain tobacco or tobacco products, which could contain other more harmful chemicals.”

Dispensaries are not allowed to sell plastic or rubber cartridges — only glass, ceramic or stainless steel for one-time use. The devices also must have a temperature control that is regulated to prevent combustion. It can also be used to aerosolize and be used in an inhaler. The dispensaries will also be allowed sell 1,000 milligrams of THC, up from 100, a tenfold increase. Vape oil cartridges will sell for $65 at Aloha Green.

“Many of our patients have been asking for this ever since we opened, especially our older patients. Both with smoking and vaping you can feel the effects as soon as 90 seconds later,” said Teri Gorman, spokeswoman for Maui Grown Therapies, who added that edibles and tinctures take as long as 20 minutes to take effect. “If somebody’s in severe pain or got severe nausea, this is the fastest way to get cannabinoids into the bloodstream. It really is a healthier option for people who want immediate relief but don’t want to smoke.”

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