Without making an announcement or statement of any kind, online retail giant Amazon has removed a range of products for assembling and packaging THC vape cartridges. Such products, which include everything from branded boxes and labels to warning stickers and compliance tabs, are often used to produce counterfeit vape cartridges for the unlicensed cannabis market. Often, the materials are so exact that it would be impossible for the average buyer to tell the difference between an untested counterfeit and a regulated, tested cartridge. Amazon hasn’t explained the move. But the company’s decision to remove the vape products comes as the U.S. is reeling from a string of vape-linked hospitalizations and deaths.
If someone were in the business of manufacturing fake THC cartridges, they’d find everything they need on Amazon—except the cannabis extract itself. Everything from the oven to the empty cartridge and the propylene glycol to fill it with, along with the brand-name packaging, labelling and state-specific warnings and codes, could be had cheap, and most of it on Prime.
But in the midst of a rash of a mysterious vape-related lung illness and six deaths, Amazon has quietly moved to alter at least some of its vape product offerings. A search for “empty 510 cartridge bulk” still turns up 223 results, while one for “propylene glycol for vaping” spits back 142. But try to find vape cartridge packages, like those sporting DANK or Exotic Carts branding, and the search comes up empty. Amazon hasn’t removed all of the materials needed to manufacture fake vape cartridges, but it has taken down the products that can make them pass as authentic on the illicit market.
A closer look at Amazon’s products offerings in the weed packaging and labelling department shows that the company is being selective when it comes to the cannabis product labels it’s removing. For example, there are still plenty of options for California compliance labels, medical cannabis labels and other packaging products for flower and concentrates. From the looks of it, many of those products are moving fast, as if buyers are trying to stock up in case the product removals expand. But packages and labels that pertain specifically to vape cartridges are no longer available.
Public health authorities in the U.S. are still scrambling to determine an exact cause of the six deaths and hundreds of cases of vape-linked lung illnesses affecting individuals all over the country in recent months. But major questions remain. Health officials have so far linked at least two deaths and many of the lung illness cases to the consumption of illicit THC cartridges. Yet there are a significant number of cases which point to nicotine vape products like e-cigarettes. So far, experts suspect vitamin E acetate, a diluting substance common to both nicotine and cannabis vape products, may be to blame.
At the moment, nothing is conclusive. But it increasingly seems that counterfeit, unregulated and untested THC vape cartridges may pose the highest risk. Unless cannabis consumers purchase from a licensed retailer selling regulated cannabis products, it is virtually impossible to be certain about what a vape cartridge contains. Unregulated extracts and concentrates can contain contaminants that pose significant health risks.
But licensed products might not be completely safe either. The cartridge that led to the death in Oregon was obtained at a licensed recreational cannabis retailer. Concerns about the actual cannabis oil aside, there is hardly any research and regulation on the additives used to cut the oil or the safety of the materials in the vape cartridge and oven itself.
As health officials work to find an answer, policymakers at all levels of government are taking action. On Sept. 11, President Trump held a meeting with Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration to discuss possible courses of action. After the meeting, the Trump administration said that the FDA would move to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes. Details about the ban are still emerging.
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