Way back in 1967, Sonny and Cher recorded their hit single, “The Beat Goes On.” Of course, this was a few years before I was born, so my information about this song comes strictly from my interest in ancient history. But as you may recall, the song heralded certain things in society that are changing, while noting that others always stay the same.
The cannabis industry is going through the same process… some things are evolving, while others remain the same. Unfortunately, some of the things that are staying the same, are exactly the things that need to change.
For example, the illicit market continues to thrive. Despite the best efforts of legally operating and compliant companies, state regulators, and sensible consumers, harmful and dangerous illicit products continue to flood the market.
Just last week, a San Diego testing lab said that nearly 80 percent of illicit cannabis vape cartridges it tested contain dangerously high levels of contaminants, including pesticides and lead. This extremely toxic combination can be very harmful to the consumer’s health.
Last year, California regulators launched new protocols for the cannabis space that included testing for terpenoids, mycotoxins, and heavy metals – including lead. We believe this was an appropriate action. If any cannabis product cannot pass rigorous testing, then it should never find its way into a consumer’s hands.
However, greed is a powerful motivator, and bad actors – some operating in both the legal and illicit markets – continue to sell tainted products to unsuspecting consumers.
Vape products are especially worrisome because they can become tainted even if the cannabis oil is clean due to the quality of the cartridge hardware.
This recent round of testing of illicit products found that 79% of the cartridges were deemed “unfit for consumption.” Additionally, 62% of them failed for pesticides. Almost 40% of the cartridges failed for lead, and one of the vape pens had almost one hundred times the legal limit.
The lab also discovered that some of the products were cut with excessive levels of vitamin E acetate – the additive that was linked to numerous vape-related illnesses. 20% of them had “a significant amount” of the toxic substance.
While there is no easy solution to ending the illicit market, it is incumbent upon all of us: growers, producers, processors, retailers, and especially consumers – to stay vigilant, keep illicit products off our shelves, and say no to these dangerous products. As has often been said, your health is worth a few extra dollars, so only buy products from reliable manufacturers and licensed retailers.
Of course, toxic, dangerous products are only one of the reasons that the illicit market is so harmful. When a consumer purchases an illicit product, it not only possesses a real health risk, but also harms legitimate businesses.
Contrary to popular opinion, most people in the legal cannabis industry are not getting rich. They are working hard to make ends meet, they care about their customers, and have often put everything they own into their business. From farmers to store owners, most of the people in the cannabis industry are hard-working, salt-of-the-Earth types of genuine folks. Consumers should recognize this and buy from these local businesses.
Hopefully, if we all act together, the illicit market will soon fade away. Then, I can quote a Bob Dylan song: “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”
At least I would be quoting Bob Dylan!
Greg Gamet is a leading cannabis entrepreneur, consultant and educator. He has co-founded or managed a variety of cannabis-based businesses, including a cultivation facility, medical and recreational dispensaries, a packaging subsidiary, a consulting company, a canna-focused real estate company, and a software development group focused on helping cannabis businesses stay compliant. Currently, Gamet is the Chief Cannabis Officer for Gold Flora, a vertically integrated cannabis company located in California. Greg can be reached at [email protected].
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