Living the Dream: Sarah Vasega

Sarah Vasega

Director of Retail Operations

Aloha Green Apothecary

Honolulu, HI

As reports of vape-related illness poured in this summer, Hawaii was one of the many states whose cannabis regulators took notice. Shortly after a Hawaii teen was hospitalized with the state’s first suspected case of vape-related lung illness, the state Department of Health publicly warned residents to stop using vaping products altogether.

At our dispensaries, the calls and emails from concerned cannabis vape users rushed in as our workforce assured them that none of the additives in question by the Centers for Disease Control were ever included in our products.

Though the Aloha State had just one reported case and no case has been linked to any licensed dispensary, the state’s medical cannabis program took aim at cannabis vape cartridges. There was even discussion of an emergency statewide ban on all vaping products, similar to action taken in Massachusetts.

Mid-October was a turning point for cannabis vape manufacturing in Hawaii. According to state regulations, dispensaries may manufacture and distribute pre-filled and sealed containers used to aerosolize and deliver cannabis orally, provided the containers “shall be filled with cannabis, cannabis oils, or cannabis extracts manufactured by the licensed dispensary and shall not contain nicotine, tobacco-related products, or any other non-cannabis derived products.”

Although the use of naturally derived terpenes is a common practice in the cannabis industry, the state Department of Health decided to strictly enforce its policy against non-cannabis derived products. After a meeting between Health Department officials and a local cannabis trade organization, licensees believed the state would crack down on current vape cartridge formulations. Dispensaries scrambled to move as many of the affected cartridges out of their inventory as possible. Prices for half-gram cartridges with added terpenes dropped to as low as $3 each and our locations sold more units in a few days than we generally sell in a month. Warning and cease-and-desist letters were sent via email to licensees known to add terpenes or other additives to their products. All state-licensed cannabis companies received the letters and stopped sales immediately and manufacturing of these products ended.

This timely, organized response is a testament to the high level of control and regulation possible in a vertical licensing structure. What turned out as a loss for us and other Hawaii cannabis companies who stand by the quality of their products was a win for patients who needed to stock up on a budget. As for Aloha Green Apothecary, we plan to begin extracting our own terpenes to offer the flavorful products that our market demands.

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