Two East Valley men are facing numerous felony charges for allegedly selling THC-filled vapor cartridges on the black market.
Hyder Ahmed, 30, of Chandler, and Charles Perry, 29, of Gilbert, were taken into custody on Sept. 20 after the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office executed search warrants at their respective residences.
Between the two suspects, investigators claim to have found more than 600 illegal vaping cartridges, seven pounds of marijuana, cash and weapons.
Undercover detectives made purchases from Ahmed and Perry through Weedmaps, an online directory of merchants selling cannabis products. THC is the illegal intoxicant in marijuana.
The website’s been criticized for allowing unlicensed sellers to advertise on its page, giving a platform for potential criminals to sell unregulated products that could be harmful to consumers.
Weedmaps announced in August it was going to stop unlicensed merchants from using its website.
But the vaping black market extends beyond just one website, as dealers across the country use social media sites to pitch their products and law enforcement is rushing to track them down.
“Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office detectives continue to deliver outstanding results in their efforts to suppress the illegal distribution of illicit drugs concealed in ‘E-cartridges,’” Sheriff Paul Penzone said in a news release.
The Sheriff’s Office SWAT team got into a scuffle with Perry at his Gilbert residence, located near Baseline and Cooper roads, and somebody firing shots toward officers.
MCSO said no one was injured and Perry eventually exited the Gilbert home.
Perry allegedly admitted to taking part in an illegal drug trade, according to MCSO, and Ahmed declined to speak with investigators.
Both suspects have been booked on charges of conspiracy, illegally controlling an enterprise, drug possession, and money laundering. Perry’s also facesseveral counts of aggravated assault.
This last month, MCSO arrested two other men in north Phoenix for allegedly manufacturing a type of vapor cartridge that’s known to have harmful side effects.
Vaping has been the subject of recent scrutiny after the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services announced at least six people in the state may have gotten sick from using the devices.
Experts recommend buying THC-cartridges from a licensed dispensary because consumers are less likely to be exposed to the chemicals and pesticides found in black-market cartridges.
A 21-year-old Gilbert man told the East Valley Tribune earlier this month he believed his vaping habit put him in the hospital with pneumonia in both his lungs.
“We are focused on protecting the young adults in our community,” Penzone added in his statement. “We will not tolerate criminal activity targeting adolescence for profit and at the expense of health.”
Despite the Sheriff’s Office recent slew of arrests, other agencies like the Gilbert Police Department said it had not had any cases of black-market vapor salesman.
Even in states where cannabis products are legal, like California, authorities are having to track bootleg cartridges that are being sold on the market at cheaper prices.
The United Cannabis Business Association, a trade group representing licensed marijuana dispensaries, recently penned a letter that demanded government regulators crackdown on sites like Weedmaps.
“Every day that Weedmaps continues to advertise for unlicensed retailers they are putting consumers at risk and suppressing the growth and very existence of the legal market,” the letter said.