At Hall of Flowers, Everyone Is Talking About 'Vapegate'
This past week, thousands of cannabis sellers and buyers gathered at Hall of Flowers, Season 3, a bi-annual B2B expo featuring the best and the biggest cannabis brands from California. The show is massive, filling up three large halls on the sprawling Santa Rosa Fairgrounds (which is also home to the famed Emerald Cup).
Related: At The Emerald Cup The Cannabis Runneth Over
While excitement, optimism, and a healthy dose of cannabis smoke filled the air, there was also lots of chatter about the recent news concerning the dangers of so-called ‘Vapegate’ To date, the number of vaping-related cases has risen to over 500 and eight people have died, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The FDA is also undergoing a criminal investigation, as several sellers from the illicit market have been arrested in Wisconsin and Arizona.
Not a surprise
While many cannabis executives say they are saddened by the news of so many people getting ill from vapes, they’re also not surprised.
“This has been on the radar for a while, so we were very aware of it. Now, unfortunately, it’s happened,” says Nancy Whiteman, CEO of Wana Brands, a popular cannabis company based in Colorado.
Rami Vardi, President of Tikun Olam North America, agrees. “It’s obvious. When you have an unregulated market, of course, you’re going to have toxins and all sort of synthetic products that are not testing as good for you.”
What they think is happening
While the CDC has yet to release evidence about what’s causing the Vapegate, those in the industry who work with cannabis night and day say they believe the culprit is Vitamin E acetate. The oil is used by many illicit manufacturers as a cutting agent so they don’t have to fill their cartridges with as much pure cannabis oil. Vitamin E might be safe while ingested via capsule or tincture but can cause pneumonia when inhaled.
Related: Marijuana Labs Adding Tests Targeting Vitamin E Acetate In Response To Vaping Health Scare
Some companies are being aggressive about their approach to Vapegate. For instance, Platinum Vapes is encouraging consumers to bring black market vapes into one of their Michigan locations, "We'll trade it out for a free CBD or THC cartridge," says company co-owner Cody Sadler. “We just want to get the illegal cartridges off the streets"
A company called Solo Sciences has developed anti-counterfeiting technology that serializes and encrypts every legal cannabis package so that it’s different. According to company founder and CEO, Alex Shah, the technology allows buyers and sellers to track every box from sale to self through their app. He says every cannabis brand in the state of Utah is currently using their technology.
Another app made by Lucid Green allows consumers to verify a product’s authenticity, understand the product’s effects and usage recommendations, view test results, scan reviews, and track their own experience.
At Wana Brands, their industrial hardware is calibrated so that nothing can heat past the point where it degrades into a toxic substance.
Light at the end of the tunnel
While nobody wants to see people get sick using vaping products, some cannabis entrepreneurs are hopeful that Vapegate will at least cast some much-needed light on the dangerous black market.
They point out that none of the reported cases so far were linked to legal THC vape products, which require a ton of testing in order to pass compliance (the same is not true of CBD vapes).
“[Vapegate] is highlighting the benefits of a regulatory framework versus a prohibition framework," says Graham Farrar, CEO of Glass House Farms, a vertically-integrated cannabis company. “Cannabis is here to stay, so the question is how to we make it safe, and how do we make it follow the rules. It’s showing people those rules are important.”