Despite the legalization of recreational cannabis for adult use in 2018, the state of California is pushing back against a sizable illegal cannabis market. While black market dealers still exist, a significant portion of illegal cannabis sales can be attributed to businesses operating unlicensed storefronts.

Brick and mortar cannabis retailers may suggest an air of legitimacy. But shops operating without a license from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) are not subject to the same quality standards as licensed storefronts.

Unlicensed Cannabis Retailers Sell Unregulated Products

Licensed cannabis retailers must adhere to the licensing requirements of the BCC. This means they can only sell cannabis goods from licensed distributors whose products have undergone extensive quality testing by licensed testing labs.

Cannabis testing requirements in California include:

This type of comprehensive quality testing is incredibly important when it comes to cannabis goods or anything we consume on a regular basis. Cannabis testing ensures that products are free from harmful contaminants and safe to consume. It also means you can trust that the labeled product potency (the percentage of THC and CBD) is accurate.

But storefronts operating without a BCC license can choose to ignore state requirements and sell cannabis goods that haven’t undergone any quality testing. In December 2019, the BCC raided 24 unlicensed cannabis retailers and seized $8.8 million in cannabis and cannabis products in the process, including nearly 10,000 illegal vape pens.

A random sampling of the cannabis products seized from the unlicensed shops were tested by the California Department of Public Health. Of the vape cartridges tested, they found 75% contained undisclosed additives including the cutting agents Vitamin E, Vitamin E Acetate, Propylene Glycol (PG), and Polyethylene Glycol (PEG). Some vape samples contained over 30% agents cutting agents. And nearly all of the samples were labeled with an incorrect THC content.

Emergency QR Code Requirements Passed in February 2020

In February 2020, the BCC passed a new set of emergency regulations that amend the requirements for the commercial cannabis Quick Response (QR) Code certificate (section sections 5039, 5311, and 5415 of the Bureau’s regulations) and make it mandatory for cannabis businesses to post their unique QR Code certificate in storefront windows and to carry it with them while transporting or delivering cannabis.

The new regulations were put in place to help consumers and law enforcement agents confirm whether a cannabis retailer holds a BCC-issued business license. This represents a continued effort by the state of California to support the legal cannabis market, where products such as vape cartridges require routine testing to protect consumer health and safety.