By Michael R. Blood, Associated Press
(AP) — 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, 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.
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.”
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.
“Dank Vapes appears to be the most prominent in a class of largely counterfeit brands, with common packaging that is easily available online and that is used by distributors to market THC-containing cartridges with no obvious centralized production or distribution,” said a report by Illinois and Wisconsin officials.
They “essentially sell empty packaging, and anyone can fill it,” said Ron Gershoni. “It’s a business model that made sense. Anybody who wanted to make a buck.”
Doctors say the vape-related illnesses resemble an inhalation injury. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, diarrhea and vomiting.
Photo: NW Metro Drug Task Force Minnesota Dept of Public Safety via AP