A five-block section of downtown Los Angeles that used to be part of the city’s Toy District has become ground zero for the nation’s counterfeit cannabis trade. While a few remaining stores sell fidget spinners and stuffed animals, the majority are hawking vape cartridges, e-juice flavors, vaporizers and other wholesale smoking and vaping supplies — including knockoffs that originated in China.
The vaping industry is under scrutiny as more people fall ill with a mysterious respiratory illness linked to e-cigarette use. Health officials are investigating more than 1,600 cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia, including 34 deaths. In California, more than 135 residents have fallen ill, at least three of whom died, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Although it’s unclear what exactly is causing the illness, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said most of the patients used products containing THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana — particularly from products obtained off the street, from friends, or family, or from illicit dealers.
In Los Angeles, some shop owners blame the vaping illnesses on untested products and devices sold to consumers on the black market — even though some are themselves part of that distribution chain.