Largely fuelled by illicit cannabis dispensaries, knock-off brand name vape cartridges are a growing concern.
Counterfeit products are nothing new. With a quick Google search, you can find your pick of knock-off designer goods, from handbags to sunglasses. Increasingly, however, the cannabis market has become a target for bootleggers as brands start to build wide-ranging consumer recognition and pull in huge sums of money. And producers of cannabis vaporizer products seem to be the choice pick for counterfeiters.
"Some of the larger brands that have real existing market traction and demand are probably the biggest targets for this, because the brands almost sell themselves," executive director of the Cannabis Distribution Association explained to Marijuana Business Daily. "There are still hundreds of unlicensed shops and delivery services in the state, and that is where this issue is most pervasive."
And the unlicensed nature of these shops seems to be key here. As businesses that are already operating outside of the law, there's not much incentive for them to go through the proper channels to acquire the legitimate goods. These illicit dispensaries can get a close enough version of a popular product for significantly less and, in turn, can sell the product for much cheaper than the official stock goes for. This keeps their bottom line down and helps bring customers from the legal market into their shops.
"We've seen counterfeits up to half the price of what we're selling," says Hanna Davis, Chief Marketing Officer of Mammoth Distribution, which supplies big-name cannabis vape cartridge brands such as Heavy Hitters.
Davis says online platforms like Alibaba and others have also contributed significantly to the rise of counterfeit vaporizer cartridges supplying the knockoffs.
"Name any big brand, go to Alibaba and search X brand packaging, and you'll pretty much find it," Davis said.
CannaCraft - another California distributor of cannabis products - says they've been receiving reports about fake products for a year now. Co-founder Dennis Craft says that not only do these counterfeit products harm business revenues, they also pose a risk to consumers.
"Obviously, it's a huge, huge mess if you can't find those kind of counterfeiters, because we don't know what they're putting in those cartridges."
Until states begin to get a solid handle on unlicensed cannabis retailers, there's likely not a whole lot that can be done to prevent counterfeit vape cartridges from making the rounds. Online sales of these kinds of products could be even more difficult to prevent given the complexity of things like global copyright laws.
In the meantime, consumers who are worried about buying a potentially dangerous knockoff should remember two things. Buy only from licensed retailers, and if the price is too good to be true, it's probably not the real thing.