Wisconsin authorities claim that they’ve busted a large-scale, black-market THC cartridge operation. The operation was making tens of thousands of illegal THC-containing vape products. State authorities seized more than $1.5 million worth of THC product from a residence.
The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department announced in a press conference that they made the bust after serving “knock and announce” search warrants at two locations. Police seized more than 31,200 vape cartridges at one property, and each one was filled with 1 gram of oil containing THC. Authorities also seized 98,000 unfilled vape cartridges, 18 pounds of marijuana and 57 Mason jars filled with 1,616 ounces of refined liquid THC.
Police are holding Tyler T. Huffhines on several charges, including possession with intent to distribute, manufacture or deliver more than 10,000 grams of cannabis. Police have also arrested Huffhines’ brother Jacob for firearm and cocaine possession.
According to a local report, Tyler Huffhines employed 10 people who manufactured and possessed THC while packing and assembling vape cartridges.
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth told reporters that employees were filling cartridges with syringes loaded from jars labeled as THC oil. Cartridges were filled with 1 gram of THC oil, although they were labeled as having 5 mg of THC oil.
As part of the operation, employees filled 3,000-5,000 cartridges per day, which sold for $16 a piece. Huffhines reportedly paid his employees 30 cents per cartridges.
Tyler Huffhines has admitted that he started his THC vape cartridge business in January 2018. He told the authorities that he did not smoke marijuana, but saw a business opportunity in purchasing THC vape cartridges in California, where they are legal, and bringing them to Wisconsin to sell at a profit.
Huffhines also admitted that he could boost profits by purchasing empty cartridges and jars of liquid THC, and paying workers to fill them. He began paying workers hourly, but then switched to paying per cartridge to boost productivity while saving money.
Huffhines admitted that he flew to California during Labor Day weekend with $300,000 in cash to purchase liquid THC.
The employees were working out of a condo in Bristol. The condo and utilities were leased and registered in the name and Social Security number of a man in Las Vegas who said that he gave no authority to use his name or Social Security number.
Huffhines told detectives that he didn’t know the man personally and that he paid $2,000 to “some guys in California” for the man’s name and personal information.
During the investigation, detectives uncovered photos and videos posted by Huffhines on Snapchat which showed plastic totes, garbage cans, dozens of pounds of marijuana and boxes filled with THC cartridges.
The huge counterfeit THC operation is believed to be one of the largest of its kind in the United States.
Police were tipped off about the operation by a high school student who contact authorities.
The operation bust comes as authorities in 33 states, including Wisconsin, are investigating a sudden rash of severe lung illnesses that have been linked to vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently looking at 450 possible cases of the illness and six deaths across the U.S.
Thus far, 34 cases have been reported in Wisconsin and 12 others are under investigation. No deaths have been reported.
It’s still unclear whether the busted operation’s products have been linked to the recent vaping deaths. Authorities are working with federal agents to determine whether the cartridges in the operation are involved in the deaths or illnesses tied to vaping.
While no single product or ingredient has been linked to all of the cases or yet proven to cause the illnesses, investigators have been primarily focused on contaminants in black-market, counterfeit products.
Investigators in New York have reportedly linked the additive vitamin E acetate in THC products to many of the cases in the state. The New York Department of Health said in a statement that each patient had at least one vape product that contained vitamin E acetate.
The vaping industry and the National Cannabis industry are calling for efforts to remove counterfeit products from the market. The National Cannabis industry, in particular, is welcoming regulation, but has also blamed prohibition for the fueling the black market.
The vaping industry is urging users to only do business with reputable vape shops that sell only verified products to avoid the risk of using dangerous, counterfeit products. They also warn that banning vape juice will only expand the black market further, which could lead to more illnesses and death.
In an article published in Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, a team of scientists from around the world surveyed clinical research into e-cigarettes and found that “no studies reported serious adverse events,” nor did they see “significant changes in pulmonary functions.”