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More Jane For Your Buck, But At What Cost?

How cannabis consumers, manufacturers and legislative stakeholders must combat the Black Market.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While growing numbers of licensed cannabis dispensaries and reputable supply-chain companies are popping up throughout the nation, an unregulated black market is also looking to capitalize on the multi-billion dollar consumer demand. Such impostures have flooded the market with unlicensed cannabis dispensaries, as well as illegal delivery services, which sell knock-off cannabis products that are not tested for pesticides and other contaminants. California, for example, is the biggest legal marijuana market in the world, and still, the black market is three times larger than the legal one.

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Such illicit competition has resulted in a significant threat to public health and safety and has created a massive problem for the marijuana community. In order to counter such a colossal illicit market, manufacturers, consumers and legislative stakeholders need education; and here are some ways to help. 

RELATED: Black Market Weed Is Still Popular In Some States, But It's Also Very Dangerous

Knockoff Cannabis -- Not Your Fake Gucci Belt 

The counterfeiting of consumer goods is nothing new. In fact, counterfeit products exist in virtually every industry sector, from food and beverages to apparel, footwear, electronics and more. Recent research has shown 80 percent of all packaged cannabis products are from the black market. Despite such high odds, consumers are usually unaware when they are purchasing counterfeit products and therefore oblivious to the potential pitfalls of their decisions. Such pitfalls extend well beyond product inconsistency. Tainted cannabis products have exposed hundreds of users to harmful chemicals, leading to illnesses and, in some cases, reports of death. 

Fake Vapes

People across America have developed potentially life-threatening lung issues as a result of using illegal marijuana vaporizers. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported, “New York state and FDA labs told officials they found vitamin E acetate, an oil derived from vitamin E, in samples of marijuana products collected from patients who had been sickened by vaping.” These conditions were caused by knockoff vape pens which are being sold across the nation outside of licensed dispensaries, and, therefore are in an unregulated market.

RELATED: What You Should Know About Regulations For CBD Product Labeling

Packaging’s Safeguard

One segment of the supply-chain taking matters into its own hands is the global packaging market for cannabis products. Beyond ensuring packaging safety, environmental friendliness and marketing appeal to consumers, packagers also want to eradicate the black market. Both packagers and pro-cannabis associations are searching for a more regulated marketplace.

Although the black market has been able to counterfeit many popular cannabis brands’ packaging, the legal marketplace is now fighting back with advanced packaging, which can include the incorporation of barcodes, regulated stamping -- which is similar to the watermarks and holograms found on money -- and other consumer protection innovations. Some cannabis brands are already incorporating QR codes into packaging in order for consumers to scan the codes for info on product tracking, ingredients, testing history and more.

RELATED: How Cannabis Brands Can Capture Attention With Custom Packaging

The cannabis industry may still have a way to go before conquering the black market. However, the industry is projected to flip in the next five years, with sales of regulated cannabis expected to surpass illicit sales. Along with educating consumers about the differences between the legal and black markets, packaging manufacturers look to align with legislative and regulatory stakeholders to ensure consumer protections, drawing up new regulatory guidelines.