In a time of designer bags, jewelry, shoes, and a slew of other consumer goods being knocked off, the cannabis industry has also fallen victim to counterfeit products.
Imagine going into what you believe is a legitimate cannabis dispensary or online shop and being sold what you think is a King Pen, Brass Knuckles, or Heavy Hitter vape, only to find that in comparison to what you’re inhaling, “you’re better chewing on lead paint”.
This is an occurrence more common than we think within the cannabis industry, according to Ashesh (Alex) Shah, CEO and Founder of solo sciences the consumer-products intelligence company dedicated to preserving the integrity of the cannabis industry as a whole by protecting cannabis consumers from potentially harmful bogus products.
The Extent of Counterfeit Cannabis
solo sciences dug into their own research and estimate that up to 80% of all packaged cannabis products appearing within the cannabis market, both illicit and legal, are counterfeit. This means that 8 in 10 times, cannabis consumers around the U.S. are consuming products that have not been distributed through licensed providers, manufacturers, distribution companies, and retailers. Most common cannabis products being knocked off are vape pens, trying to represent the big brands of that product category.
Just a Google Search away, people with less than honest intentions can access knock-off packaging from cannabis brand giants, to fill with low-quality oils, or in some cases, products that don’t contain any cannabis at all. With so many new consumers putting their trust in the hands of dispensaries and budtenders being sold counterfeit packaged cannabis products, Shah remarks that “It’s a perfect storm that could mean the end to the industry.”
A Tool to Protect Industry Integrity
“Major brands are being misrepresented,” says Shah, as licensed brands only legally do business with licensed retailers. To fix this, Shah, along with co-founder Kate Flannery, solo* is bringing to the cannabis industry technology yet unseen by the industry, and the anti-counterfeit solutions industry as a whole.
The world and the industry’s first cryptographically secure cannabis product authentication system, solo*CODE™ is the first-of-its-kind, closed-loop intelligent authentication system for cannabis products. The platform uses an app to decipher uniquely encoded labels that create a “digital fingerprint” that can only be used and decoded by the solo* app. What is produced is a product authenticity report that acts as a certification for cannabis brands, telling the consumer that the product is 100% authentic.
With 80% of products estimated to be counterfeit, the problem is mostly exacerbated by online retailers that get their materials mostly from China. Disposable counterfeit vape cartridges either comes pre-filled with mystery oil or is sent empty for the retailer to fill. Since there is no regulatory body overseeing what is going into these products, it could be low-grade oil, pesticide-ridden products, or even synthetic cannabinoids, which have proven to be fatal in some cases.
As the black market continues to thrive, unlicensed shops also add to the problem of pushing counterfeit packaged cannabis products. For instance, according to the Los Angeles Times, more than 200 illegal dispensaries operate in L.A. alone, which could be a conservative estimate.
“The world of cannabis is murky, unpredictable, and often not safe,” said Ashesh (Alex) Shah, CEO and founder of solo sciences in a company press release. “As brands and governments are struggling to fight the illicit market, we created solo* to solve that problem by creating transparency into what cannabis providers are actually selling to consumers. solo* is designed to keep people out of the dark when it comes to what they’re consuming and putting into their bodies, so they feel secure and knowledgeable about the products they’re purchasing.”
According to Flannery, the solo* app is about “putting the power into the hands of the consumer”, allowing the consumer themselves, not a budtender at a possibly unlicensed shop to tell them what products are authentic.
Data Experts Playing “Data Judo”
Solo sciences is not your average cannabis data company brought together to sling just another data set into the cannabis space. Shah is a former CIA Profiling Specialist on the Presidential Task Force holding 8 patents, while Flannery is a former consultant in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries, working among the likes of Medtronic, Philips Healthcare, and Hospira/Pfizer. Filling out the team of 20 employees at solo sciences are former members of the CIA, DEA, and advanced professionals in the technology of detection. The development of solo*CODE involved “image processing containing the most complicated algorithms,” according to Shah. “This is beyond a QR code,” he adds.
Solo sciences came across the platform and its potential “accidentally, but it’s become the most important part of our product”, said Flannery to Green Market Report.
The solo* app couldn’t be easier to use for the consumer, and it not only empowers the consumer with information about the legitimacy of their product but also invites the consumer to provide feedback on their experience with their product.
How solo* Works
Through building widespread awareness among the cannabis community, consumers will recognize the solo* label on cannabis products, which will invite them to scan the code into their phone via the app. Information about the possible side effects (as reviewed by a doctor), THC:CBD ratio and other product attributes, package and dosage details, and producer information with the license number will appear to confirm a product’s legitimacy.
Following this authentication process, consumers are invited to provide feedback on their product after its use, prompted by a series of interactive questions that will ask the consumer their mood along with their level of energy, focus, and even their level of confidence. “This allows us to close the loop and provide intel to brands from the voice of the individual,” explains Shah.
Shah also explains that the emergence of solo* “puts the screws to brands to be transparent” in offering product information to this platform that will eventually make its way directly into the hands of the consumers. The platform allows for transparency upstream and downstream, something that Shah refers to as “data judo” to Green Market Report, by working with manufacturers to help ensure customer safety. “Consumers also have a level of expectation around technology when it comes to the data that’s available to them,” adds Flannery. “This helps everyone on all sides,” remarks Shah.
Spreading Authentication Across the Industry
In addition to publicly unveiling its cannabis authentication product, solo sciences also announced today that more than 1.2M units with the solo*CODE™ will start shipping in August through its partnership with Vertical Companies, a seed-to-sale multi-state operator.
“We’re proud to be a launch partner for solo*CODE™,” said J. Smoke Wallin Vertical Wellness CEO in solo science’s press release, “We demand the highest standards in terms of product safety and excellence. We want the distributors in our network to know that our brands and CBD products they’re selling in stores or online are the real things. Through the solo*CODE™, consumers can get a download of exactly what’s going into their bodies, in real-time through the mobile app. This builds trust and transparency and should be the industry standard across the industry.”
To date, solo* has partnered with 53 cannabis brands to join forces with the new cannabis authentication system. It’s expected to ship more than 9 million encoded units into the market over the next 12 to 24 months.