Dank, brand that isn’t, scru­ti­nized amid va­p­ing ill­ness

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - News - By MICHAEL R. BLOOD

LOS AN­GE­LES — It’s a widely known va­p­ing car­tridge in the mar­i­juana econ­omy, but it’s not a li­censed brand. And it’s got the kind of mar­ket buzz no le­git­i­mate com­pany would want.

The va­p­ing cartridges that go by the catchy, one-syl­la­ble name “Dank” — a slang word for highly po­tent cannabis — are fig­ur­ing promi­nently in the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­ter­mine what has caused a rash of mys­te­ri­ous and some­times fa­tal lung ill­nesses ap­par­ently linked to va­p­ing. Most of the cases have in­volved prod­ucts that con­tain the mar­i­juana com­pound THC, of­ten ob­tained from il­le­gal sources.

The sus­pect Dank vapes are a fa­mil­iar prod­uct in the un­der­ground mar­i­juana econ­omy — it’s not a le­gal, tested brand. It’s merely a name on a box or a car­tridge, pack­ag­ing that’s eas­ily ob­tained on­line and used by il­licit pro­duc­ers to lure cus­tomers.

But with col­or­ful boxes and names like Cherry Kush and Blue Dream, the home­made vapes ap­pear con­vinc­ing on the shelf.

“It doesn’t look very dif­fer­ent from what you can buy in a (le­gal) dis­pen­sary,” said Bev­erly Hills-based cannabis at­tor­ney Al­li­son Mar­golin.

So far, investigat­ors have not iden­ti­fied a cul­prit in the ill­nesses re­ported in dozens of states. But of­fi­cials say pa­tients have men­tioned the Dank name fre­quently. Many of the peo­ple who got sick in Illinois and Wis­con­sin, for ex­am­ple, said they used cartridges sold in Dank pack­ag­ing.

The raw ma­te­ri­als to pro­duce a Dank vape aren’t hard to find: Ready-to-fill Dank boxes and cartridges can be or­dered from Chi­nese in­ter­net sites for pen­nies apiece. A Craigslist post last week of­fered a box stuffed with empty Dank pack­ages for $16. And you can buy the boxes and empty cartridges in shops in down­town Los An­ge­les.

A rogue pro­ducer adds cannabis oil — al­most cer­tainly untested — and it’s ready for sale.

“It’s a generic prod­uct name that doesn’t re­ally tie back to one store or one dis­trib­u­tor,” Dr. Jen­nifer Lay­den, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer for the Illinois De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health, said last month. “Folks are get­ting it from friends or folks on the street, with no un­der­stand­ing of where it came from prior to that.”

The chief sell­ing point for pot vapes in Dank pack­ag­ing: It’s a quick high on the cheap, avail­able for as lit­tle as $20 a gram on the il­licit mar­ket, roughly one-third of what a cus­tomer would pay for a car­tridge in a le­gal mar­i­juana shop in Cal­i­for­nia

But they come with risk: Prod­ucts in the le­gal mar­i­juana mar­ket are tested for safety and pu­rity, while those in the il­licit mar­ket are not and could con­tain pes­ti­cides, heavy met­als or other dan­ger­ous con­tam­i­nants.

Given the shad­owy pedi­gree of Dank vapes, it’s not sur­pris­ing that de­tails about its his­tory are scarce. In Cal­i­for­nia, the Dank name ap­pears to have emerged dur­ing the largely un­reg­u­lated med­i­cal cannabis era, prior to broad le­gal­iza­tion that be­gan in 2018.

Last month, Wis­con­sin au­thor­i­ties un­cov­ered an il­le­gal va­p­ing-car­tridge op­er­a­tion that they said was pro­duc­ing thou­sands of cartridges loaded with THC oil ev­ery day for al­most two years. Pho­to­graphs re­leased by the Kenosha County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment showed neatly stacked Dank boxes and cartridges, ap­par­ently ready for ship­ment.

Also last month, Min­nesota au­thor­i­ties seized nearly 77,000 THC va­p­ing cartridges, some of which were pack­aged in Dank boxes.

As­so­ci­ated Press files

This “Dank” pack­ag­ing, part of the nearly 77,000 THC va­p­ing cartridges was seized last month in a record drug bust in Anoka County, Min­nesota. Dank, a shad­owy but widely sold il­le­gal mar­i­juana vape is draw­ing the at­ten­tion of investigat­ors look­ing into a rash of mys­te­ri­ous lung ill­nesses around the U.S.

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