When it comes to anything having to do with cannabis, two things are often true at the same time. Its use is as at once legal — at least according to some 36 states — and illegal, if you ask the feds. And while the last 10 or so years have seen cannabis’s legality spread quickly, giving birth to different and improved means of consumption, another paradox remains: There’s seemingly never been a better time to do business in weed, and it’s also never been more challenging to get products in the hands of consumers.
The problems plaguing the weed business are perhaps best encapsulated by legal disputes, like when, in 2019, Puffco filed a complaint alleging that a previous class action lawsuit filed against it had been secretly coordinated by Kandypens, one of its competitors. The lawsuit alleged Puffco’s Peak vaporizers — one of the most popular high-end e-rigs on the market — were bunk, particularly its ceramic atomizers, which kept breaking on customers; it also alleged the company wasn’t honoring warranties.
In the complaint, Puffco accused Kandypens CEO Graham Gibson of creating a series of Instagram pages dedicated to disseminating information about the class action lawsuit before it was even filed and later shared a copy of the class action complaint. Puffco said Kandypens never disclosed that it created the pages.
In January, Puffco announced via Instagram that the suit was settled in its favor. But all the drama and general desperation signaled that these issues persist, with companies sometimes resorting to litigation to gain market share in the face of a variety of market problems. This is not unheard of in the cannabis world, where the still-legalizing status means emotion and mudslinging run rampant. The fight for air is even more fraught when it comes to vapes, a category plagued with draconian regulation that has spilled over from nicotine vaping problems.
Around Christmas of 2021, Puffco announced that, due to the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act’s provision regulating “nicotine delivery systems” coming into effect, it would no longer be able to use its online store to ship directly to consumers. Even though the law appears to apply strict regulations to the mailing and taxation of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products only, it includes stringent requirements for vape gear of any stripe. This erroneously includes dab gear, which slides in under a technicality of inhalable “liquid.” It’s a classification that would rightly make most cannabis concentrates enthusiasts recoil, especially because no tobacco or nicotine is involved.
“If USPS determined that this ruling does include cannabis concentrates, which it did, we knew we won’t be able to ship,” says Puffco CEO Roger Volodarsky. DHL, UPS and FedEx all followed suit.
Still, there is a long history of cannabis being swept up in tobacco regulations. Ask any vape or dab tech maker what their biggest headache is right now, and I’d wager that all of them will say it’s the EVALI lung disease scandal. In 2019, an outbreak of an e-cigarette-associated lung disease, subsequently known as EVALI, caused a crackdown on nicotine and illegal cannabis vaping products, from which the vaping segment of both industries has not fully recovered. Plus, there’s still stigma with using cannabis, and dabbing even more so.
Volodarsky says that Puffco started as a direct result of stigma related to dab consumption, which historically was done with a torch and a quartz rig, which more or less looks like a steampunk bong. Since dabbing requires high heat and cannabis concentrate, it’s essentially freebasing weed. Because of the stigmas associated with freebasing other types of drugs, particularly crack cocaine, the practice came with some side-eyeing, especially in New York, where consumers historically have been more image-conservative than their counterpoints on the West Coast.
“I had already been arrested for cannabis a few times,” Volodarsky says, so whatever product he made, it was going to have to be discreet. The result is a suite of products, including a dab “pen” and an electronic hot knife, that are sleek, futuristic, expensive, effective, and, yes, discreet. Puffco’s best-known offering is easily the Peak, a space-age-looking electronic dab rig that has given the company flagship and mythic status in the hash community since it debuted in 2018.
The Peak has suffered some problems over the years since its release, like faulty wiring in the base and finicky ceramic atomizers, but Puffco made tweaks that have resulted in a much more reliable product. Nowadays, it’s impossible to attend a party with serious weedheads without seeing a fleet of people walking around dabbing on the go.
A few years ago, this was unheard of, mostly because e-rigs didn’t exist. Now, Puffco’s success has inspired a gang of low-quality copycats alongside a few high-quality e-rigs that could give the Peak a run for its money. Ispire’s Daab is probably the best example of the latter. Released this past February, it appears to have taken design elements from the Peak — like a glass rig piece affixed to a black electronic base — but it has a few extra bells and whistles, like a more dialed-in range of temperature settings and induction heating. It’s the traditional look of the Daab’s glass apparatus that specifically calls back to more traditional users, who often think that using an e-rig is “cheating,” despite its conveniences. But there’s a technical boon, too.
“With a lot of the other smart rigs on the market, e-nails and things like that, it hit me that they are putting products on a metal or ceramic atomizer," says Ispire CMO Rick Egan. According to him, "that introduces more toxins into a process where you’re consuming a very pure form of cannabis." Ispire's all-glass rig, meanwhile, gives users a similar experience without the need for a torch.
Now all Ispire needs to do is get its e-rigs in the hands of consumers. It, along with other dab tech companies like Greenlane, which owns vaporizer company DaVinci, resolved its issues with the USPS and other shippers before the PACT Act was set to take effect earlier in 2021, essentially working out one-on-one deals that showed they were exempt because cannabis concentrates are not nicotine liquids. Puffco, meanwhile, has resorted to using a system of smaller regional deliverers. According to Volodarsky, Puffco is now back “up to 70 percent” of its previous direct-to-consumer delivery network, allowing the company to think about the end user again.
“Clearly, consuming concentrates is the best experience in this space. How do we make this more accessible to people?” Volodarsky asks. “There’s more to come.”
The Best High-Tech Weed Accessories of 2022
An elegant, functional one-hitter from a brand obsessed with elevating the canna-gear space. The Helix is made of heavy brass and breaks apart for easy cleaning.
Part of the new generation of high-end dab rigs, Ispire’s Daab uses a tiny induction burner to heat concentrates rather than other, more messy heating elements, and takes concentrates of any viscosity level.
If your vape can’t take both flower or extract, what are you even doing? DaVinci’s IQC vape handles both, and comes with a five-year warranty to boot.
The device that launched the electronic dab rig craze. It’s sleek, fast, customizable, efficient and it’s tough to see it being dethroned anytime soon.
A version of this story first appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today