Health Concerns about Black Market Cannabis

On Wednesday, Gov. Whitmer signed an executive order that bans the online and retail sales of flavored tobacco vapes. This decision to prohibit all flavored nicotine vape juice was based on the health and safety of Michigan children.

While marijuana vapes are still legal for medical and adult-use consumption, the law can only go so far in protecting the public health, safety, and welfare if people do not seek out cannabis products from legal sources. Purchasing black market products not only cuts into the bottom line of the legal cannabis industry, but also poses a health risk when people consume untested and potentially dangerous products. 

In late August 2019, Rolling Stone published an article discussing the health concerns when people purchase “bootleg” marijuana vape oil cartridges (aka: weed pens or oil pens). Pre-filled vape cartridges that come from unlicensed, black market businesses may appear to be authentic, tested, and safe. The article mentioned several reports of healthy, younger individuals in the hospital with mysterious respiratory problems and lung injuries.

While not conclusive, counterfeit vape cartridges have been blamed for causing these health issues. 

The Problem with Purchasing Counterfeit Cannabis Products

The issue with these fake, untested products from the black market is that they look nearly identical to genuine, tested products. To the untrained eye, it is difficult to determine if a product from an unlicensed company is authentic or has passed testing. The packaging, product label/test results, and even the vape cartridge itself, often appear to be 100% real. The risk with every fake product, however, is that it is untested and potentially filled with dangerous substances.

The problem with unlicensed businesses selling untested products is not new. In fact, it’s been a hot topic within the emerging cannabis industry throughout the United States. More recently,—website/app for cannabis businesses to advertise and market their products to the public—announced that it would stop posting ads for unlicensed cannabis businesses. This decision was made in an effort to eliminate black market sales and reduce the health risks of people consuming fake and untested products. 

Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) has also attempted to curb black market sales by urging the people to only purchase products from licensed businesses. They have created a tool for people to easily identify whether a retail store or delivery service is licensed by the State.

The Consequences of Inaccurate Testing Lab Results

Health and safety concerns in the cannabis industry are not entirely limited to the black market. One of Michigan’s few safety compliance facilities (testing labs) recently had its license suspended for, “inaccurate results and/or unreliable testing and reporting practices.” 

Another lab had been entering inaccurate potency results into the statewide monitoring system for a period of time. This shows that, aside from the problems with untested products and the black market, that even licensed cannabis companies cannot be 100% relied on to ensure that products are safe for consumption.

Overall, there will certainly be growing pains and a learning curve as the industry continues to establish itself and evolve into a more mature market. While there is nothing to suggest that this is a widespread concern, these reports will continue to fuel the debate on whether legal medical and adult-use cannabis is worth the risk to the health, safety, and welfare of the public. 

While it is tempting to buy a product for a lower price, it may not be worth the health risk of consuming an untested, counterfeit product. Furthermore, this risky choice only allows the black market to thrive, while other licensed cannabis businesses and the public suffer. 

The elimination of the black market can only be achieved from a coordinated effort between the public, licensed cannabis companies and the government. This includes maintaining a licensed system that prioritizes accountability and safety for everyone. 

Nickolas Galendez (20 Posts)

Nickolas Galendez is an associate attorney with the Cannabis Legal Group. Since joining the State Bar of Michigan in 2015, Nickolas has practiced medical marijuana law under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act. For over two years, Nickolas has gained significant experience related to preparing and filing applications for local and state licenses; property, land use, and zoning issues; as well as education and advocacy efforts.

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