Spurred in part by the widespread vape illness that has hospitalized thousands and killed more than 40 people, police departments across the country are cracking down on illicit weed vape cartridges. Now, a new report claims that cops have confiscated more than 500,000 black market carts in the last two years alone.
Compiled by reporters at the Associated Press, the report compiled criminal cannabis data from “interviews, court records, news accounts, and official releases.” Pre-filled THC vape cartridges first emerged in legal medical markets in the last decade, but have since exploded in popularity in both licensed dispensaries and black markets alike. Since carts do not smell like cannabis and can be concealed more easily than flower, many pot users in prohibition states considered the product type to be a godsend.
But as vape carts skyrocketed in availability and popularity, bootleggers and black market hustlers began counterfeiting popular cartridge brands and creating their own unregulated vape products, eventually spurring the ongoing health crisis. Health officials suspect that the culprit of the cartridge-caused lung damage can be traced to cutting agents like vitamin E acetate, or a combination of additives, heavy metal poisoning, and pesticides. But no matter what is causing the sickness, the vape crisis has caused cops to refocus their efforts when it comes to cannabis policing.
“We’re putting a lot more resources in pursuing these organizations,” Ray Donovan, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office, told the AP. “This is where the market is going… These criminal organizations are going to jump on whatever the business model is and try to take advantage and exploit that.”
In a few particularly noteworthy cases noted by AP reporters, a pair of brothers in Wisconsin were caught with more than 100,000 vape cartridges earlier this year. In another landmark case, cops in Minnesota busted a dealer with 77,000 carts in September. Combined with an additional 200,000 carts that Agent Donovan’s NYC DEA office has taken down themselves, the Associated Press’s estimate of half a million carts begins to look a little light.
Even in states with legal weed laws on the books, bootleg carts have sprung up as a way for both cannabis producers and consumers to skirt heavy taxes and licensing regulations.
“It’s been a challenge of training officers what to look for, what to do in their investigations, as well as educating the public as to what they may be purchasing if they’re purchasing on the street,” Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesperson Brian Marquart told the AP.
But without any standardized method for tracking vape seizures, it is impossible to know exactly how many black market vapes have been taken off the street, nevermind how many have been made, sold, and consumed.
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