If imitation is the highest form of flattery, you’d think Kingpen, a popular California-based cannabis brand, would be positively tickled by the fact that they make one of the most widely counterfeited vape cartridges on the market. But with a mysterious lung disease putting both manufacturers and consumers on high alert, Kingpen’s parent company Loudpack is especially worried. “I think it’s very scary what’s happening right now,” says Danny Corral, Loudpack’s vice president of sales. “There’s a lot of bootleg product that’s going out there and flooding the market and getting people sick. I think that the perception of the product is getting tainted in that way.”
For two months, there’s been a flood of stories about the mysterious illness apparently connected to vaping that’s sent hundreds to the hospital and is linked with several deaths. As speculation about what might be causing the illness spreads, the Center for Disease Control is warning against vaporizer usage, and both federal and state-level bans on flavored vape pods are going into effect, ostensibly to keep kids away from potentially dangerous cartridges. With over 1,000 cases and at least 19 deaths potentially caused by vaping, people are asking questions about how the problem started, why it grew so out of control, and what can be done to prevent any more harm. But for cannabis companies who have been operating legally for years, there’s another burning question: How did regulators not see this coming?
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It’s still unclear exactly what kind of vaping is leading to these illnesses, and in fact, the cases are still missing a concrete link to each other. While some victims cited the use of nicotine vapes as a trigger for their symptoms, many patients have said they were vaping THC products before they became ill. And that’s led to some understandable panic in the cannabis industry. Since states began legalizing recreational marijuana usage in 2012, vape use has risen steadily — but the popularity of vaping nicotine, CBD, and THC has surged in the last few years. Last year in California, for example, cannabis concentrates outsold