Burdensome and irksome, arbitrary and protectionist, the many webbed network of laws governing commercial cannabis in California are there for at least one reason even hardcore libertarians should grudgingly appreciate: They are meant to prevent consumers from purchasing knock-off products that have the potential to do them harm. This is noble and good.
There is absolutely an argument to be made in favor of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries, of the kind proliferating like wildflowers in Southern California, sometimes it’s too expensive or too onerous to obtain a license; sometimes licensing requirements lock out people of color or working-class people from the cannabis industry. But selling knock-off cannabis products rife with pesticides or lead, as some unlicensed cannabis dispensaries were recently caught doing, makes that case much more difficult to build.
Los Angeles-based NBC4 sent its I-Team around to some of the dispensaries that lack licenses from the state but are nonetheless selling cannabis. They bought products that appeared to be well-known brands and thus if not trustworthy, at least accountable —you know who to find if something goes wrong — but which turned out to be frauds, sometimes in very convincing fake packaging.
Faked products included vaporizer cartridges from Stiizy, Brass Knuckles, and Heavy Hitters, according to NBC, which brought the cartridges to a state-certified testing lab to see what was in them. Nothing good: “All had large amounts of dangerous pesticides, banned by the state” for use on cannabis. Another cartridge also had high levels of lead, a dangerous heavy metal that is a known neurotoxin.
Ersatz or outright bammer product has been an issue in the weed world from the beginning, though a new frequency (or new low) has emerged since legalization led to commercialization. Fake Mothership glass available on Dhgate has given way to fake Firefly and Firefly 2s on eBay. At issue here is the potential for harm. A fake product that is nonetheless safe, like a “Louis Vuitton” bag from Canal Street, might be “worth it” for the consumer. At any rate, the parties done harm are done only commercial harm. With fake products that are also dangerous to use or consume, real physical harm is done to the consumer for the motive of profit. This is indefensible behavior.
Below is real Heavy Hitters packaging. Can you blame the consumer if they saw something similar and determined, hey, must be safe?
It’s not clear when, if ever, California will be rid of the unlicensed dispensary issue. And it’s also true that a licensed commercial dispensary could be compelled to cut corners and sell bad product using a well-known brand’s image and packaging, though the cost of getting caught — losing the license — might be enough incentive to not take a risk.
Remember that every licensed dispensary has a license number issued by the state. This will appear prominently on their website and often on their social media, and should be posted in the brick-and-mortar location. If you can’t find it, ask to see it. If they can’t show it, you should think seriously about taking your business somewhere else.
Unlicensed cannabis sellers may appear in your life, offering flower or something else. But there is a big difference between an heirloom grower who can’t get a permit and an unscrupulous profiteer happy to put you at risk for monetary reward. Both are now painted with the same ugly brush, and you know who to blame.
TELL US, have you ever encountered cannabis knock-offs?