Vapocalypse: 2020

Just one month in, 2020 has proved to be a… challenging… year on many fronts, but some small comfort can be taken that the EVALI crisis seems to have substantially abated.

New cases have slowed to a trickle, and the educational campaign strongly encouraging people to cease purchasing and consuming vape carts from non-licensed phony brands, such as Dank, seems to be gaining traction.

The CDC shared the following statistics:

As of Jan. 21, 2020, 2,711 cases of hospitalized EVALI or deaths were reported by all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 2 U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). 60 deaths have been confirmed in the following 27 states and the District of Columbia: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. More deaths are under investigation.

Recent news from the California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, the state’s cannabis regulatory agency, is helping us gain a better understanding of the scope of the problem of illicit carts originating in the Golden State. KTLA Channel 5 broke down numerous issues with the carts, from dangerous additives to far lower than promised potency.Recent raids of some of the hundreds of illegal, unlicensed dispensaries in the Los Angeles area revealed just how widespread these quality control problems are for Angelinos.


The state conducted tests on the marijuana oil contained in a random sample of more than 10,000 illegal vape pens seized in the Los Angeles raids.

The tests found that 75 percent of the vapes contained undisclosed additives, including the thickening agent vitamin E acetate, which has been blamed by federal regulators for the majority of lung illnesses tied to the outbreak. In some samples, oil in the cartridges was diluted by more than one-third by potentially dangerous and undisclosed additives.

Nearly all the samples were labeled with incorrect THC content, the state found. For example, one cartridge claimed the oil was up to 85 percent THC, but actually contained 33 percent THC. Some vape products seized from the unlicensed stores contained as little as 18 percent THC.

The vitamin E acetate is the potentially fatal injury, to which is added the insult of buying a vape cart with a mere 18 percent THC.

Flower with that potency and greater is readily available, and without lethal thinning agents. If I’m going to die from your back-alley brewed dirty poison carts, I would at the least like to get high one last time from said toxic trash cart.

It begs the question: Are the proprietors of these illegal shops operating from a place of righteous anger and an outlaw mentality in response to a recreational program which has consistently failed to meet expectations, is absurdly over regulated and taxed, and regulates against easy cannabis access to nearly 80 percent of the state? Or, are they truly nothing more than ruthless, “profit above all else” enterprises which have no issue with selling poisoned, outrageously watered down products?

It would suck to be a recreational consumer and endure these shortcomings, but there are those who rely on clean cannabis products which deliver the potency listed.

A chemo patient dependent upon a high potency cart to control their nausea, pain, and stress is going to suffer when their expected 75 percent THC clocks in at a miserable 18 percent. That’s the equivalent of producing and selling fake pharmaceuticals.

Shout out to those still slinging off the books, and long may you run. But it’s inherent upon those doing so to call out those who are doing damage to the game. Police your own, and don’t support or engage in business with anyone producing or selling garbage. Be the industry you want to see, illicit or not.

Josh Taylor is a well-known and successful entrepreneur in the legal cannabis space, producing B2B and B2C cannabis events, "Backstage Budtending" and upscale concierge services through his companies and His weekly syndicated newspaper column and features about cannabis ran for five years until March 2020.

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