A terrifying rise in vape-related illnesses across the nation, and not just in states with legal cannabis, has spurred many users to stay on guard for counterfeit cannabis products. Fake vape cartridges, in particular, are linked to the current vaping health crisis.

Vape cartridges are the main focus of black-market competitors, especially with the rise of concentrate sales, but bootleggers have also aimed to copy packaging for popular flower, edible, and topical brands, too.

Avoiding counterfeit cannabis products, especially California, is on every marijuana consumer’s mind. Below, you’ll find tips and tricks on how to identify licensed vs. illicit shops and check product labels and packaging to identify the real deal.

Buy From Licensed Retailers

The best way to avoid counterfeit marijuana products is to purchase them from a licensed retailer in a legal marijuana state. Users that live in a state that prohibits cannabis use should avoid the allure of their only source of cannabis, the black market.

Consumers may suspect a dispensary isn’t licensed if the dispensary fails to enforce certain California regulations like not charging taxes or not checking IDs at the door.

Check The Label For Testing

In California, all products must be tested for pesticides, solvents, and cannabinoid content. Licensed cannabis brands then place a label on the packaging to ensure customers that the product was tested by a third-party laboratory. Keep in mind, these certificates of analysis (COA’s) can be reproduced, so always check with the lab to confirm the results.

Look for potency in percentages for flower buds and milligrams for edibles. Edibles will also display an expiration date, nutrition facts, and ingredients. A number of warnings is also listed on the packaging.

In terms of testing, manufacturers must list the cannabinoid content and testing date. Some dispensaries may even perform terpene testing to provide consumers with more information about a product’s aroma.

Make Sure The License Exists

Large cities with hundreds of dispensaries are perfect havens for illegal shops to hide in plain sight. California’s cannabis black market is estimated to be three times larger than the legal market. In California, cannabis dispensaries are required to clearly display their license number. Users can also check the Bureau of Cannabis Control website to confirm the retailer’s license number.

Beware Of Fake Copycats

An increasing number of fake copycat products made of popular vape brands such as Heavy Hitters, Brass Knuckles, and Stiiizy is being unscrupulously reproduced to look like the real thing, but contain untested cannabis. Legitimate cannabis companies are going so far as adding holograms to differentiate their cannabis packaging from fakes.

Vape counterfeits and other fake cannabis products are dangerous to public health because they don’t undergo testing for pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, and other contaminants. Inhaling or consuming these toxins in any way could lead to a host of medical problems including headaches, pulmonary illness, or worse.

Black market counterfeit products not only threaten public health, but also perpetuate the stigma that cannabis is unsafe. It’s up to regulators to create policies to reduce illegal storefronts and incentivize consumers to shop at licensed retailers, but consumers must also do their part to avoid consuming these dangerous and potentially lethal substances.