Vaporizers, e-cigs of the pot world, are booming

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Grenco Science has invested quite a bit in packaging and design to create a classy looking device. (Photo: Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY)

LOS ANGELES — Chris Folkerts started selling electronic cigarette-like devices from the trunk of his car two years ago. Now he and two partners own one of the biggest brands in the business, with products in 4,000 stores nationally, an art deco office on the city’s fashionable Miracle Mile and an endorsement deal with rapper Snoop Dogg.

The rapid success of Grenco Science, the privately held company Folkerts founded, mirrors the fast growth of the business it is in — marketing devices that allow marijuana users to vaporize their psychoactive weed rather than smoke it.

“This is a big industry — it is the future,” Folkerts, 31, says. “We’re really on the cusp of exploding.”

With Grenco’s “G Pen” line and a vast marketplace of competitors, marijuana users can avoid the hassles, hazards and telltale smell that goes with lighting up a pot pipe or cigarette, as well as the uncertain dosage and delayed effects that come with ingesting marijuana-infused food and drink.

Just as e-cigarettes have transformed the business and national debate over tobacco smoking, e-cig technology and vaping are bringing major change to cannabis culture and business — even altering the way pot is packaged and sold in states where it is legal for medical or recreational purposes.

Steve DeAngelo, a marijuana entrepreneur and activist who founded the Harborside Health Center medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, says the arrival of compact, portable, microprocessor-controlled vaporizers and advances in extracting active ingredients from cannabis plants have caused a shift in consumer demand.

Some dispensaries such as his and many in Colorado, where recreational pot is legal, now do roughly 50% of their business in raw marijuana leaf or flowers, and the rest in edibles and concentrates, some prepackaged in cartridges for use in vape pens, he says.

“The percentage of raw (pot) flowers we sell has been dropping steadily,” DeAngelo said. “The percent of extracts and concentrates … has been rising steadily.”

The company sells its pens through thousands of smoke shops, head shops and other retailers as well as directly online. He is creating fashion, art, music and extreme sports marketing tie-ins to extend the product’s reach into new sales outlets, such as at South By Southwest, the tech and music festival in Austin this month.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper who flaunts marijuana use, has his own line of G Pens sold by Grenco. The rapper stars in an instructional video and is the brand’s public face.

The rise of handy vaporizers has boosted retailers, too.

“I’ve been in the business for 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything impact the market like this,” says Tony Van Pelt of Pomona, Calif., who sells vaporizers and related items online and in stores.

“This is the moment I’ve been waiting for,” he says. “This vaporizing thing has changed the whole world.”

WHAT IS VAPING?

  • Vaporizers, often powered by battery or electricity, extract the active ingredients from marijuana by heating it to a temperature lower than required for combustion.
  • Cannabis leaves or concentrates are heated to around 338 to 356 degrees Fahrenheit, less than the approximately 450 degrees required to burn.
  • When air is drawn through cannabis heated to the proper temperature, it emits a vapor that is inhaled.
  • Because there is no fire or combustion, there is no smoke.
  • They can be as small as a ballpoint pen or as large as a toaster. Some have digital controls for precise temperature controls.

Courtesy of USA Today

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