Does the Legal Market Run the Black Market? Kushy Punch Busted for Fake Vapes
Kushy Punch, which is a legally licensed cannabis company in California, allegedly led a double life where it sold black market vape products on the side.
Published on October 7, 2019

As the lung illness caused by vaping continues to take lives while hospitalizing many more, the state-legal cannabis industry has insisted that the epidemic isn’t being caused by legal, licensed cannabis vapes. Unlicensed, untested marijuana vapes may be the culprit. But what should consumers do when the illicit — and potentially deadly — products are coming from otherwise totally legit, licensed pot companies?

According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs (CDCA), this scenario allegedly happened. Last Thursday, the CDCA issued a search warrant on an unlicensed vape manufacturing facility in the Canoga Park District in northern Los Angeles. The unlicensed, black market vape operation was supposedly being run by the licensed, award-winning weed company, Kushy Punch.

As reported by David Downs at Leafly, an anonymous source who claimed to work for Kushy Punch said that the company ran two parallel operations. On the public-facing, licensed end, Kushy Punch made cannabis extracts and edibles that followed strict compliance procedures and underwent regular lab testing. But on the other, clandestine end, the company diverted its unsafe plant material that wouldn’t pass lab testing — either due to pesticides, heavy metal contamination, or molds — to be processed at its underground facility to, ironically enough, be made into knock-off versions of its own products.

During the CDCA’s search of the unlicensed facility, authorities said they found packaging and products bearing Kushy Punch’s logos and likeness. “Investigators confiscated thousands of illegal vape carts worth millions of dollars,” a spokesperson from the Bureau of Cannabis Control, Alex Traverso, told Leafly

Kushy Punch’ CEO, Ruben Cross, did not respond to Leafly’s many requests for comment.

Gallery — Here's What Fake Vapes Actually Look Like:

Black market weed vapes have fallen under the crosshairs as of late. Investigators suspect that a mysterious lung illness that’s gripping the nation may be caused by illicit vape products. In recent weeks, over 1,000 people have been hospitalized across the nation due to the illness, and at least 19 people have died. Authorities still do not know what is causing the illness, but they suspect that vitamin E acetate (a vape oil cutting agent) or hydrogen cyanide (a byproduct of heating the banned fungicide myclobutanil, aka Eagle-20) could be responsible.

The vaping illness has created enough public health concern that some jurisdictions have enacted temporary bans on some or all vape products. In recent months, Kushy Punch tried to get ahead of the vaping-illness scare through proactive marketing, since Kushy Punch products are one of the most popularly counterfeited vapes and edibles producers. 

In September, speaking to Weedmaps News, Kushy Punch’s CEO Ruben Cross said that the company went to great lengths to differentiate its packaging from unlicensed, knock-off products. “We have changed our packaging six times in the last two years to make our products look different,” Cross said. “It has cost our company well into the millions trying to stay one step ahead of the fake Kushy.”

While the investigation is still ongoing, this is not a good look for an industry operating in conflict with federal law. As the vaping illness continues to take lives, the cannabis industry has highlighted that the problem seems to be caused by unlicensed and untested vape products sold on the black market. If it turns out that Kushy Punch was actually slipping its own dirty products into the black markets while pretending that it was doing the opposite, the repercussions for legal operators could be grave. We may soon be seeing more search warrants and more raids coming to other licensed cannabis companies. 

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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