Halloween may have passed, but the suspense remains as Minnesota lawmakers begin drawing up plans and proposals for the state's upcoming 2020 legislative session. Legislators don't resume work at the capitol until February, but some important announcements have shed light on the fight to be expected next year.
Over the past few months the news has been dominated by reports of people being hospitalized with severe lung injuries from bad THC carts. The FDA and CDC are finally on the same page regarding the most common factor between the nearly 2,000 cases nationwide with an update released at the end of October. Minnesota confirmed that two more deaths were linked to the outbreak.
In an expected fashion, elected officials in the state have made announcements of their plans to take on the outbreak and address youth use of nicotine at two separate press conferences early this week.
“We’re not waiting anymore,” said Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan. “There’s no wait and see to see if these things are dangerous. We know they’re dangerous. People across the country and in Minnesota are dying using these products.” Halverson's comments echoed many at the capitol conflating commercially available nicotine vapes with tainted THC cartridges.
The proposals also include a tax increase. Halverson and others believe that raising tobacco prices are "the best way to prevent youth from ever starting to smoke," in her own words. Lawmakers and media sources inaccurately stated that vapor products are tax exempt. Currently Minnesota sales taxes apply to retail vapor purchases, as well as a 95% excise tax on all nicotine that crosses state lines.
Another major point of contention is the documented rise in youth use and experimentation with vaping. Proposals to combat the rise include the taxes mentioned before, raising the minimum age to purchase to 21, and the most extreme proposal includes an overall ban on flavored vaping products. Prohibition has been the route several other states have gone already, but court decisions over the last two weeks have put bans in Michigan and Oregon on hold. Massachusetts' ban was upheld, but some changes must be made going forward.
Smokeless's own Jesse Griffith was interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio.
“We have customers who definitely want their voice heard on this,” Griffith said. Policymakers, he said, are conflating legal vape materials and illicit THC products.
“The way that state and federal officials responded has been solely focused on trying to minimize the access to flavors, so I think that certainly sends the message that our industry is the problem, not the illicit drug trade,” he said.
Last week, DFL Gov. Tim Walz spoke on the issue during visits to several Minnesota schools. The Governor supports a tobacco 21 measure, but is much more wary of banning flavors for adults.
“Prohibition does not work,” Walz said. “You can make things more attractive by doing that.”
Minnesota's legislative session resumes on February 11th, 2020.