Powerful THC cartridges, used to vape marijuana instead of smoking it, are part of a growing trend in the medical and recreational marijuana markets.
The cartridges — at the center of a Scottsdale homicide that has resulted so far in the arrest of three men — are making up an increasingly larger part of both the legal and illegal pot market.
In Arizona, they can be purchased legally at medical marijuana dispensaries by patients with a state-issued card.
BDS Analytics, a Boulder, Colorado company that tracks legal cannabis trends worldwide, estimated Arizonans’ medical marijuana spending of $581 million during 2018 with residents holding 186,000 state-issued cards.
It projects that medical marijuana sales will grow to $761 million by 2024 and that figure would double by 2024 if recreational marijuana becomes a reality.
Potent THC cartridges would likely play a significant role in both types of sales, with BDS saying that 30 percent of Arizona sales come from concentrates, which include extracts such as THC cartridges.
“At the end of the day, it’s convenience and accessibility,’’ said Robert Ferguson, director of operations for Jetty Extracts, a California manufacturer of legally sold THC cartridges.
He said the popularity of THC vaping is growing because the cartridges pack a wallop, containing 60-90 percent THC compared with about 30 percent of flower marijuana.
Eventually, he anticipates that THC cartridge sales will grow from 30 percent of the legal market in California to 50 percent.
Vaping allows users to take a hit discreetly, leaving far less of a smell. The vaping may appeal to people who experimented with marijuana during their youth and haven’t used it in years, he said.
“We call them fence sitters, people not sure if they want to dive back in,’’ Ferguson said. “There’s a lot of stigma around cannabis use.’’
Ferguson said he is certain that Arizona has a strong black market for THC cartridges, just like California, with the black market representing a cheaper, but far more dangerous way to obtain marijuana.
The advantage of buying from a dispensary is it guards against harmful chemicals such as pesticides being blended into the THC oil by black-market operators who often make their own cartridges, he said.
Stephanie Siete, a spokeswoman for Community Bridges, a behavioral health agency based in Mesa, said the trend toward THC cartridges poses a threat to teenagers and is yet another reason why it’s important for parents and schools to crack down on vaping.
“Marijuana has always been prevalent and now you have this trendy delivery system,’’ Siete said.
She said people have been vaping THC oil for a long time, but it is clearly gaining in popularity, with an estimated three million teens vaping nationally.
“It’s a youth epidemic that parents need to know about,’’ Siete said, and parents and schools should consfiscate vapes from their teens when possible.
“I think the question is vaping what,’’ Siete said. “They could be vaping nicotine; they could be vaping THC. You would never know the difference.’’