Fake container for cbd oil

L.A. stores sell supplies for making knock-off, possibly dangerous, cannabis vapes

Two authentic packages of Kingpen cannabis vape products, at left, and two knock-offs. Replicas hold untested, and possibly adulterated, cannabis oil.

A short walk from police headquarters in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, a cluster of bustling shops are openly selling packaging and hardware that can be used to produce counterfeit marijuana vapes that have infected California’s cannabis market.

Bootleggers eager to profit off unsuspecting consumers are mimicking popular, legal vape brands, pairing replica packaging churned out in Chinese factories with untested, possibly dangerous cannabis oil produced in the state’s vast underground market.

The result: authentic-looking vape cartridges sold by unlicensed dispensaries and delivery services, along with rogue websites.

The deceptive rip-offs on the street could be linked to an emerging public health crisis. Hundreds of people across the U.S. have been sickened, mainly by vaping cannabis oil. Seven deaths have been reported, the latest Monday in Tulare County.

Public health officials aren’t sure what’s causing the breathing issues, vomiting and other symptoms, but in California they say most patients reported purchasing vapes from pop-up shops or other illegal sellers that are a pipeline for counterfeit products.

The problem has gotten so pervasive that a major legal brand, Kingpen, is investing millions of dollars to redesign its packaging and product security.

The distributor for another major brand, Heavy Hitters, devotes a section of its website to report phonies and has hired a former federal prosecutor, Priya Sopori, to help it deal with counterfeiting.

“The danger presented by counterfeit products is just a natural result of not having the money, the resources or the people power to enforce licensing,” Sopori said. “Someone is buying this packaging, buying these cartridges and filling them with whatever. It’s being sold as our brand.”

Counterfeit packaging with the names of popular vape brands including Heavy Hitters in a display case at a store in downtown Los Angeles.

Is vaping a healthier option?

As marijuana has gone mainstream, versions of e-cigarettes that vaporize high-inducing cannabis oil are one of the hottest-selling items, popular for those who don’t want the smoke that comes from lighting up a joint. In addition to quickly delivering a high, there’s a perception not supported by science that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking.

In California’s legal marijuana market, the world’s largest, the state requires cannabis oil to be tested before being placed on the shelf for sale. For example, safety checks are made for the presence of 66 pesticides, mercury, lead and other heavy metals, and 21 solvents that could be used in the extraction process with which oil is pulled from cannabis.

But it can be hard for people to tell whether a product they’re buying is made by a legitimate company. The phony packaging is convincing to the untrained eye, some even carrying bogus labels that appear to carry state-required test results. Most people probably wouldn’t know the difference — until they vape it. The taste and THC level could be significantly different from the authentic product.

To add to the confusion, consumers can have trouble distinguishing legal dispensaries from unlicensed shops, which in Los Angeles sometimes operate in the same neighborhoods and appear indistinguishable.

“My biggest fear of counterfeiting is people are getting an unsafe product, an illegal product, and think it’s coming from our company, a legal company,” said Bryce Berryessa, a board member of the California Cannabis Manufacturers Assn. whose company, Skunk Feather, produces concentrates and vape cartridges.

In another warning of consumer risk related to vaping, an Associated Press investigation Monday found that some operators were substituting illegal synthetic marijuana in vapes marketed as natural CBD, a chemical in cannabis that doesn’t cause a high and promises mainly unproved health claims.

A sophisticated effort

In storefronts along downtown Los Angeles’ Boyd Street, a narrow commercial strip that has become a de facto bazaar for all things cannabis, there are displays of fake packaging and ready-to-fill vape cartridges for sale, using the names of popular brands including Heavy Hitters and Kingpen.

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At one shop, the knock-off Heavy Hitter packages were selling for $225 for 100 empty cartridges and boxes; the Kingpen sets sell for $200. Counterfeit packaging and vape cartridges can also be easily found with a few mouse clicks on Alibaba, China’s largest online commerce company, and other websites. After buying the knockoffs, a counterfeiter would add cannabis oil that is widely available in the illicit market — one recent online ad was selling oil for $6 a gram when purchased by the liter.

It’s not clear who’s behind all the different sales, and California law enforcement agencies have been overmatched by the widespread illegal market. The Los Angeles Police Department’s main focus is shutting down an estimated 200 illegal dispensaries across the city, not pursuing the source of counterfeit vape cartridges that might be for sale inside them, department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.

So far, the state’s illegal market has been operating largely unchecked, providing a ready market for fakes.

One recent study estimated that consumers were spending roughly $3 in the state’s underground pot economy for every $1 in the legal one. Last week, state regulators raided two unlicensed shops selling bogus marijuana vapes in Southern California, seizing nearly $3 million in products. And in Wisconsin, authorities uncovered a 10-man operation that manufactured thousands of counterfeit vaping cartridges every day for almost two years loaded with oil containing THC, the high-producing ingredient in marijuana.

A likely link between copycat vapes and the stores that sell them was illustrated Aug. 28. An illegal shop padlocked by police in Los Angeles had a display case prominently displaying Kingpen vapes. The company said it had no relationship with the shop, which was selling vapes at bargain-basement prices, meaning they were almost certainly fakes.

Kingpen has taken matters into its own hands, suing Chinese companies that produce fake packaging, sending scores of cease-and-desist letters to businesses that sell them and filing complaints with the state — only to see nothing change.

“There is no feedback. There is no action,” said Danny Corral, Kingpen manufacturer Loudpack’s vice president of sales.

Others have gone so far as to hire private investigators to search for illicit suppliers, only to hit a dead end. That has led many in the industry to believe the counterfeit operations are an organized, sophisticated practice.

“We have every reason to believe that the same criminal gangs and cartels that dominate the global pharmaceutical counterfeit drug trade will similarly wrestle control of California’s cannabis counterfeit drug trade,” says a report compiled by Mammoth Distribution and submitted to state regulators. The company distributes Heavy Hitters.

At a wholesale store in downtown Los Angeles, a shopkeeper shows his selection of refillable cannabis vape cartridges.

Taking matters into their own hands

With counterfeits leaching into California’s illegal vape market, the threat for licensed companies is not just millions in lost revenue. They worry their highly valued brands could be forever tainted if people get a mouthful of foul-tasting vapor — or become sick — from a bogus product carrying their name.

To fight off rampant counterfeiting, Kingpen’s parent company is preparing to shelve millions of dollars’ worth of packaging and hardware, then spend additional millions of dollars to launch a redesigned product.

Loudpack is partnering with a technology company and this month plans to roll out an anti-counterfeiting program that will enable customers to verify the authenticity of Kingpen products bought from licensed dispensaries in the state.

The rectangular paper box will be gone, replaced with a square metal container. The company’s logo remains, a rendering of a bearded, bloodshot-eyed king, but his face is partially obscured, like he is peering around a corner. There is also a unique code so buyers can validate the product.

In a statement, the company said it hoped the makeover would give people “peace of mind in knowing that any Kingpen product purchased legally is in fact authentic.”

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The Top 6 Ways to Identify Fake Cartridges

Today, cannabis vape cartridges are more popular than ever. However, due in large part to their exploding popularity, there has been an increase in fake cartridge manufacturers trying to cash in on the trend.

Today, cannabis vape cartridges are more popular than ever. However, due in large part to their exploding popularity, there has been an increase in fake cartridge manufacturers trying to cash in on the trend.

It was quickly discovered that fake cartridges can have detrimental health effects. In fact, fake vape carts went viral for containing vitamin E acetate, a filler used to reduce costs, just a few years ago with coast-to-coast news coverage on the worst-case scenarios from consuming them.

So, in today’s complex world of vape carts – how can you identify fake cartridges from real ones to stay safe vaping? Keep reading for the top six ways to identify a fake cartridge and the most common FAQs on the topic.

Fake Cartridge Safety Concerns

Before we get into the ways to identify a fake cartridge, it’s crucial to know why it’s so important. Fake cartridges became the talk of the town in 2019 when their safety and health hazards came to light. Since then, we’ve learned about a number of safety and health concerns.

  • Users may experience lung pain, shortness of breath, and bouts of coughing from unsafe ingredients for inhaling.
  • Fake cartridges often come with unsafe batteries, which can cause combustion, or overheating of the vape.
  • Low-quality materials used for the cartridge container may release poisonous fumes that are dangerous to inhale.
  • Long-term use may lead to vaping-associated pulmonary injury, which can result in death.

The severity of this list is why consumers are now educating themselves on safe vape use. That includes, knowing how to identify fake cartridges to protect your health and safety.

Top 6 Ways to Identify Fake Cartridges

Now that you know just how unsafe fake cartridges are, let’s get into the top ways of identifying the vapes

1. Purchase from licensed vendors & trusted brands

Just like food or other ingestible goods – you wouldn’t purchase or consume any from a vendor or brand you can’t trust, the same should apply to vaping. Especially with the increase in fake cartridges on the market today. So, if you’ve never heard of a manufacturer before, it’s best to do your research before puffing.

Vape cart manufacturers who are legal and licensed are subject to rigorous testing, to confirm the exact contents, and contaminants of what they produce. This means, if they don’t meet testing standards for safe use – they won’t make it to the shelf.

Since fake cartridges are not subject to these types of tests – verifying the legitimacy of the brand or vendor first, is the first sign to check for.

2. Know your brands

If you’re buying online or from a third-party, don’t just take the source’s word for it when it comes to brands. Again, take the time to research the vape brand you’re considering before you move forward with the purchase.

Online retailers and sources, like Leafly or I Heart Jane, host a versatile collection of trusted brands that you can use for verification purposes. User forums like Reddit, may also discuss the brand you’re considering so conducting a simple Google search will help too.

3. Compare & confirm packaging details

Because some fake cartridges try to mimic legit brands, once you confirm the brand is legit – it doesn’t hurt to go further. To do so, it’s recommended to seek out the brand’s licensed packaging to compare and contrast with the one you plan on purchasing.

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Fake cartridge manufacturers have become savvy at spoofing the real deal. Which means, the difference could come down to small details. Most state regulations require a batch or lot number to be printed on the packaging or label, so that’s a good place to start for verification purposes.

In addition, if cartridges are branded with cartoons or novelty characters – they’re likely fake. Legal states tend to have regulations that restrict manufacturers from producing any type of packaging that would be desirable to children. That even includes the advertising of fruity or candy-like flavors for certain states.

So, be cautious of any vape cartridge with packaging that’s overly cartoonish or childish.

4. Beware of fake copycats

Of course, some fake cartridge manufacturers take their imitation to all new levels. With some going as far as building their own website and online presence, to appear legit.

During your research, make sure there are no duplicate websites for the brand you’re purchasing. To verify the site even further, look for the license # which is often listed, or inquire with the company directly.

You can also cross-reference locations listed on the web site with the recorded location for licensing by the state in which you live.

5. Check the ingredients

Back to our food analogy – it always helps to check the ingredients to ensure you know what you’re consuming. Much of the controversy over fake cartridge side effects was likely caused by filler, which fake manufacturers use to mimic the real thing. The most common ingredients used for this purpose include –

  • Vitamin E Acetate
  • Polyethylene glycol
  • Propylene glycol
  • Vegetable glycerin

Although these agents are technically approved by the FDA for consumption, they aren’t approved for inhalation. Today, experts are investigating vitamin E acetate as a possible cause for many vaping illnesses and deaths.

Also, be aware that real vape carts typically contain THC levels of 70-90%. Anything lower than 60% has likely been cut with some type of agent, and anything above 99% would be considered suspect, too.

6. Verify regulatory compliance

Like we mentioned earlier, legal states require rigorous testing, and requirements for packaging and labeling. So, most legal and ‘real’ vape cartridges tend to have extremely detailed information on the package it comes in. For instance, the regulations in California require manufacturers to include –

  • Date of manufacturing and packaging
  • Government warning verbiage for cannabis use
  • Manufacturer name and contact details
  • UID number
  • Lot or batch number
  • Instructions or preparation for use
  • Ingredient list, including allergens, and artificial food colorings used
  • Use by, best-by or expiration date

These compliance requirements vary from state to state, and you can check them on the state’s governing website.

When it comes to fake cartridges – no question, is a dumb question. So, to finish our ultimate guide – let’s answer some FAQs.

Fake Cartridges FAQ
Can a fake CBD vape cartridge kill people?

Fake CBD vapes can be made with the same types of harmful fillers that may be responsible for vaping-associated pulmonary injury. This new condition has already been found in over 530 people, and has killed six. So, yes to avoid any injury or death it’s best to avoid fake CBD or THC cartridges altogether.

What are the side effects of fake cartridges?

Beyond dealing with a vape pen cartridge with no airflow issue, there are far more consequential side effects of fake cartridges. Like coughing, harmful lung issues, illnesses and conditions, and even death.

Is there a fake cartridges list?

Luckily, with the collaboration of consumers and being able to connect online – there is now a long list of known fake cartridges. So far, the following brands are a part of this ongoing collection of fake vendors. This is meant to serve as an example and is not an exhaustive or regularly updated list.