In Washington, DC and other gray or black markets, many vape cartridges available are from brands that have been heavily compromised by counterfeits or are presented in packaging that looks like it came from a legitimate California dispensary, but the brands don’t actually exist. FYI you can skip the article section and go straight to The Bad List if you want. Sniff.
The only vape cartridges in DC that get a full, A+ endorsement from GentlemanToker at this time are available from Green Label Grinders. They’re extracted locally from an expert team that would rather I keep their name out of my mouth just at present from Green Label’s beautiful DC-grown flower. The flavor and smoothness of their carts never fail to garner compliments when I can be convinced to share.
The Means of (Vape) Production
Many of the carts originally available in DC after I71 passed were home-brewed. There’s videos on YouTube of how to do it. A vape cartridge is cannabis oil concentrate, typically distillate, in a standard glycol (PG/VG) solution.
There was some backlash about the health risks of inhaling glycol a while back (which is what every nicotine-based vape juice uses) so lots of brands say they don’t use it, that their oil is pure, but they they generally add either artificial flavoring or terpenes (either botanically or hemp/cannabis-derived, rarely but ideally from the same processed flower) and possibly an emulsifier if the oil is really thin.
While it’s possible to make your own vape carts, it isn’t economical without the proper equipment and even then, most DC gift weed delivery brands don’t have the time or manpower to fill their own cartridges, so they use third party processors. It’s cheaper and faster to buy ready-made packaging that gives your gifts a professional look than to have your own designed from scratch.
How to Spot a Fake Vape Cart
If it’s a brand name vape cartridge in DC in 2019, it’s almost definitely a fake. The best way to confirm is to get your Google on like I did and see if you can find “vape packaging” plus the brand name. I’ve also included some helpful links I found in my research below. The counterfeiters are keeping pace with the real manufacturers so guides on how to tell are rapidly outdated.
Another good way to tell is that the THC is printed on the box and not on a separate label applied to the box. A real, state-licensed brand is going to have each batch tested, and you wouldn’t print a single result on an entire run of boxes (typical custom production runs in China start at 10k pieces).
Down the Rabbit Hole
Since I’ve been on the ground here in DC a while, I know some of the brands that use these processors and fake packages. I wanted to give them their chance to speak about why they use them. I’m not going to call them out individually- it would be unfair to shoulder a few with blame for what is an epidemic in the local cannabis community, especially considering their assistance with this research.
One said they make their own carts with their in-house distillate because they produce a better product than they were able to source. I haven’t tried this one yet.
The other two both were surprised at my suggestion that the brands were fake, claiming they got it straight from the source in Cali and wanted to be sure I said they had the “real” Dank Vapes, Mario Carts, Kingpens, and Brass Knuckles. Except…
Two of those brands suffer from heavy counterfeiting (Kingpen & Brass Knuckles) and the other two don’t exist. When I told them Dank Vapes and Mario Carts don’t have any presence on Leafly, Weedmaps, Sticky Guide, or any online presence of their own (outside of some sketchy social media accounts), they expressed confusion.
I was pointed in the direction of the “legit” source the pens came from. They have a website, but it’s kinda barebones. As far as I can tell they’re a pop-up brand from California. I’d rather not pursue it further in print, but suffice to say these didn’t come from a dispensary…despite what it might suggest on the box.
Consider this. A licensed recreational state brand has a lot to lose to if a significant amount of their product gets diverted to gray and black market states.
Since the first days of I71, brave souls with medical cards in other states were smuggling back actual dispensary products in limited quantities, God bless ’em, but not nearly enough to feed this city’s demand.
You should be suspicious of any name brands you’re offered, at least enough to check the internet for fakes.
Fake and counterfeit vape cartridges are likely to contain low quality distillate and/or cut with too much juice (glycol), possibly even contaminated with pesticides.
For perspective, though, many commercial cannabis brands use pesticides allowed by their state statutes. It’s not supposed to end up in the final product, but it absolutely is a thing that happens sometimes. There’s also a measurable amount of acceptable rat poop in your food.
Maryland was unique in that their MMJ program wasn’t going to allow any pesticides at all, but that changed in its first year, underscoring why home-growing laws are important. You don’t have to worry about “economic impracticality” to grow your own medicine.
I’ve had plenty of cartridges from dispensaries locally and across the country that range from middling to awful. Excellent vape carts are uncommon in my experience. Good shops will be able to provide COAs (Certificate of Analysis) upon request, so then you just have to decide whether you can trust the lab that performed the test. Not all labs are created equal, hem hem.
You can’t narrow your expectations by fake brand as some people make and fill their own cartridges and some people get them from “reputable sources.” So just because I’m looking at a particular Brass Knuckles vape cartridge doesn’t mean every BK cart is cool.
OK, let’s go get ourselves Murder Mountained!
KingPen is a real Cali brand under the LoudPack umbrella currently suffering from rampant counterfeiting. I first reviewed a cart by this name here but I’m guessing it wasn’t real. This most recent sample from a different source seems awfully similar- too much glycol and harsh distillate. Unsmokeable.
It’s super easy to order a full line of Kingpen packaging from China as you can see below. I have yet to get an actual Kingpen from a dispensary for comparison but I’m adding it to the To Do list for my next Cali trip.
FAKE! Mario Carts
This one should be obvious. Every cannabis company that gets licensed in every state has to go through a review process by their state board and there’s no freakin’ way that ripping off Nintendo games aimed at youngsters is gonna get through. Not. Happening. So when you have a perfect facsimile of Mario or Donkey Kong or any popular cartoon on the package, this is clearly not a legit sold-in-dispensaries brand. That being said, I got a couple, and here’s what I think:
These are bad. Really bad. I started getting that dirty distillate headache almost immediately after consuming, within a few puffs. Hard no.
COUNTERFEIT! Brass Knuckles
Brass Knuckles was the main subject of this Merry Jane article. China’s counterfeiting these boys so hard it’s like a whole Thomas Crown Affair, you know, where they leave the museum and everyone’s wearing bowler hats to confuse the cops?
Anyway, they reported that the Brass Knuckles brand has been Shanghai’d so bad that they’re actually copying the anti-copy holographing that BK implemented to stop the counterfeiting. China has all the same printing presses we have in the US, mijo!
I got a Brass Knuckles cart locally and even though my source confirmed with theirs it’s a counterfeit, it’s not bad. The distillate isn’t harsh, actually has a bit of natural flavor, and I find myself wanting to continue hitting it. That’s better than some stuff I’ve got from dispensaries.
FAKE! Dank Vapes
There’s actually a ton of different Dank Vape designs available online, some even sporting holograms. The only claim on this box is the unlikely “All Organic, No Propylene Glycol” and unlikelier 90%+ THC.
UPDATE: a reader tip sent me to a California medical collective/delivery service on Weedmaps that sells Dank Vapes. That isn’t as legit as being sold in a recreational Cali dispensary:
Cali’s medical marijuana program has long held a “gray market” notoriety. In fact, DC’s expansive medical marijuana reciprocity program doesn’t even allow California patients to participate!
Coupled with the lack of brand presence (no website, no brand page on any major site like Kingpen or Heavy Hitters) suggests there are many different processors all using the same Dank Vapes branding. Some may have indeed come from Prop 215 Cali brands but there’s nothing stopping anyone from making a batch themselves.
COUNTERFEIT! Heavy Hitters
I’d heard of Heavy Hitters through the grapevine and it’s a confirmed real brand, but here’s the super-disappointing screenshot of purchasing the packaging on eBay- complete with holographic counterfeit-thwarting tape. Wamp wamp.
FAKE! Exotic Carts
Exotic Carts are also fake. Same as Dank Vapes, there’s a ton of different designs and I actually got them from the exact same online store as the Dank Vapes and in the same package. Oh God, I’m gonna get murdered, aren’t I? Any chance you could hire a supermodel assassin to do it, but, like, seduce me first? I could…I could get down with that.
These say Prop 215 on them, which gives it the impression that it came from a dispensary, but my understanding is that California’s pop-up event brands also claim to operate under Prop 215. Unlike the Mario Carts, the Exotic Cart bags don’t claim to be pesticide-free.
COUNTERFEIT! Willie’s Reserve
Say it ain’t so, Willie! I didn’t order a batch of Willie Nelson-approved cannabis packaging, but you can see here on Alibaba that they use the exact same photo from the real Willie’s Reserve website. Dammit, Willie, how’d you piss off Beijing? Poker, I bet. Aww, we can’t stay mad at you.
FAKE! Pure Nectar
Oooh, this looks pretty. It also doesn’t appear on any major weed website or have a website of it’s own. Or a social media page. So…fake. At least there’s no claim on being from Cali included. Here’s my photos of the empty packaging I bought!
These came from within the US with a nice note about their commitment to customer service and quality. From their ubiquity online, I’m guessing this is an American reselling Chinese packaging and not printing it themselves.
Reader tipped me off to another counterfeited California vape pod brand as confirmed in this post on Dab Connection, but their manufacturer links to Shenzhen and searches of Alibaba don’t produce any results for Stiiizy. I found them on DHGate but every listing reads as Out of Stock. So maybe this brand managed to chase off the counterfeits for now?
Notably among the list of Google top-rated suggestions when you type in OCityTimes, “filling machine” comes up. Searching OcityTimes brings us directly to Alibaba and Shenzhen Corp’s own splash page for their OcityTimes complete line of vape hardware and packaging. Not a legit brand in the least.
FAKE! Loud Farmz & Black Market Boys
I actually found a link to buy “Black Market Boys” and “Loud Farmz” packaging on Leafly from shatterlabelstore.com, which doesn’t work. They do list a phone number (800-585-9509) which has a functioning greeting message. I found Loud Farmz on Alibaba right next to BMB. Both of the packages look kinda basic. Definitely not a legit “sold in dispensaries” brand.
No online presence on WeedMaps, Leafly, or Sticky Guide. No website of their own (I pull up a vape shop by that name in Mobile, Alabama. I don’t think that’s the same). Not legit!
FAKE! Blossom Tech
Rounding up our Alibaba search netted Blossom Tech on another Shenzhen splash page. No estas legitimo!