Cannabis black markets exist in states with and without legal cannabis laws. In California, for example, unlicensed dispensaries sell fake weed cartridges to unsuspecting consumers putting them in harm’s way. In states without legal cannabis, pot dealers pass off counterfeit vape carts of popular brands as the real thing. Fake cartridges run the risk of containing contaminants and low-quality oil.

The Plight Of Pre-Filled Cartridges

Pre-filled cannabis cartridges are one of the most popular cannabis products across recreational states. While these tank-like containers are potent and convenient, they may not always be safe. From residual solvents and metals to additives and cutting agents, cannabis oil can contain more than just therapeutic cannabinoid oil. State-of-the-art extraction methods and mandatory lab testing in California, for example, has kept consumers safe for the most part.

Black Market Is Agile

Consumers who live in states that prohibit cannabis use aren’t protected by a regulatory framework. Instead, consumers have to take their dealer’s word that they are getting the real product. In 2017, the LA Times reported that California produced five times more cannabis than it consumed. Experts believe that much of that product ended up in states where cannabis is illegal. Even Oregon faced overproduction issues and black market sales. States are instituting new regulations to stem the overproduction of cannabis that ends up in other states.

Overseas Counterfeiters

International manufacturers are setting up profiles on social media networks like Instagram and e-commerce sites like Alibaba. These vape cartridge wholesalers advertise branded vape carts of popular West Coast brands like Heavy Hitters, Brass Knuckles, King Pen, among others. Counterfeit cartridges feature similar graphics, warning labels, and even holographic labels to mimic packaging used by real companies.

Manufacturers in Shenzhen, a cannabis hardware hub in China, produces much of the hardware used in real and fake cannabis brands. The cannabis market is so dependent on Chinese wholesalers that Trump’s trade tariff’s threatened to put some small cannabis companies out of business. Counterfeiters in Shenzhen and elsewhere sell empty vape carts ready to be filled with questionable oil for sale in the black market.

Fake Products Are Dangerous

While the long-term effects of inhaling contaminated cannabis oil are unknown, some cases have already shown what counterfeit products can do. In Utah, at least 52 people were made sick after consuming synthetic cannabis being passed off as CBD oil. The synthetic cannabinoid (4-CCB) found mimics THC causing hallucinations putting users in life-threatening situations. Some states and countries in Europe have reported deaths from synthetic cannabis use.

Vape Brands React

Vape brands that are being counterfeited can report bootleggers to authorities, but they’re having trouble keeping up with the black market’s ability to create strikingly similar packaging. Companies like King Pen are changing their cartridge and packaging design to keep copycats on their toes. Brass Knuckles has incorporated hologram stickers on their acrylic casing that were quickly copied by manufacturers in Shenzhen.

Brands like King Pen are taking legal action against counterfeiters overseas by protecting their intellectual property and suing manufacturers of fake cartridges. Other brands are educating customers about the black market problem via social media.

Black market vape cartridges are not going anywhere anytime soon, but consumers can do their part to steer clear of these pesticide-ridden products. While unlicensed shops may boast lower prices and special deals, they often carry fake vape products. Complete cannabis legalization could protect consumers by regulating the industry and testing products for potency and purity.

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