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Police confiscated nearly $4 million worth of THC vape cartridges near Minneapolis on Monday, the largest seizure of its kind in Minnesota.
During a raid in Coon Rapids, a suburb north of Minneapolis, police recovered 76,972 e-cigarette cartridges containing THC, along with $23,000 in counterfeit cash. One suspect, who was suspected of dealing via Snapchat, was arrested.
The bust follows Minnesota's first vaping-related death. An elderly woman who vaped marijuana for back pain died from a vaping-related lung injury in August, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Nationwide, nine people have died and the CDC says 530 have been sickened from vaping-related illnesses.
Counterfeit vaping cartridges generally contain THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana, in addition to other unknown, potentially harmful ingredients.
"We have no idea what is in these cartridges," Brian Marquart, a Minnesota Department of Public Safety official, said at a press conference Tuesday.
Investigators in New York have begun to focus on Vitamin E acetate, a compound commonly found in counterfeit THC cartridges but not in commercial nicotine cartridges, as the potential source of vaping-related illnesses.
Asked if he considers Vitamin E acetate a potential risk, Assistant Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health Daniel Huff said, "We just don't know the impact of when you inhale it."
Officials believe the cartridges, which they estimate are worth $3.8 million, were sent from out of state for distribution within Minnesota.
One week before the Minnesota bust, two Wisconsin men were arrested for alleged involvement in a counterfeit THC cartridge ring. Police seized 31,200 THC-filled vape cartridges, along with 98,000 unfilled cartridges and more than 1,600 ounces of liquid THC.
Marquart said Minnesota investigators are in contact with Wisconsin officials, but could not confirm whether there was a link between the two alleged drug-dealing operations.
Many of the cartridges seized in Minnesota were in vibrant packaging and had names like "Candy Land," "Cherry Pie" and "Apple Jacks."
"We know that companies target our young people," said Huff. "When you are selling cotton candy flavored or bubblegum flavored products we suspect that those are targeting children."
Medical marijuana products, including certain THC cartridges, are currently legal in Minnesota
The Trump administration announced plans on Sept. 11 to ban the sale of flavored vaping products nationwide. Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted a similar ban in New York last week. And on Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced an emergency, four-month-long ban of all vape sales in Massachusetts.