Why Cannabis Track-and-Trace Systems Were Crucial to Containing the 2019 Vape Crisis

By David Eagleson, Director, Program Management

Before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world and how we respond to public health and safety issues, a vaping crisis rocked the U.S. cannabis industry. In April 2019, public health officials started reporting cases of vaping-related respiratory illnesses in mostly young, and otherwise healthy, men across the country. The culprit? Illicit THC vape cartridges cut with vitamin E oil.

By early summer, hundreds of cases of Vaping-Associated Pulmonary Injury (VAPI) had been reported in 49 states. In the northeast, one governor even declared a public health emergency and issued a ban on the sale of all vaping products in the state.

Metrc immediately jumped in to help government officials in one of our client states figure out where and how many vapes and vaping products were being sold. Within 48 hours of the state’s vaping ban announcement, new directives for the isolation and removal of dangerous cannabis products using Metrc’s system were issued. More specifically, Metrc and state officials:

In one New England state served by Metrc, 619,000 potentially harmful products were proactively removed from dispensary shelves, protecting patients and consumers from potentially fatal injury. Seun Adedeji, founder and CEO, of Elev8 Cannabis, a national chain of legal dispensaries located in Oregon and Massachusetts said, “Metrc is the backbone of the regulated cannabis market. Its track-and-trace technology helps dispensaries, like ours, stay on top of regulatory changes, while protecting consumers against unsafe products that proved so dangerous during the vaping crisis. Metrc’s approach keeps the market secure while helping business and government work better together.”

Ultimately, the state’s new cannabis industry protocols led to more rigorous cannabis product testing, greater transparency of vaping cartridges and other THC products, and a more refined emergency response process. These vaping crisis rules still exist now, creating more effective regulatory oversight overall.

“Metrc is the backbone of the regulated cannabis market. Its track-and-trace technology helps dispensaries, like ours, stay on top of regulatory changes, while protecting consumers against unsafe products that proved so dangerous during the vaping crisis. Metrc’s approach keeps the market secure while helping business and government work better together.” -Seun Adedeji, founder and CEO, Elev8 Cannabis.

In the end, VAPI led to almost 3,000 hospitalizations and claimed over 60 lives. Had systems – such as track-and-trace technology – not been in place to identify, contain, and destroy dangerous products we may still be dealing with the effects. The community effort between cannabis regulators, public health officials, law enforcement, licensed businesses, and Metrc was made possible by the level of insight a strong track-and-trace system can provide.