One of the first precursors of today's vaporizer was made famous by Frank William Wood, alias Eagle Bill, and found its way from America across the pond to the so-called Cannabis College in Amsterdam in the 90s. The non-profit information centre in the historic red light district was always happy to receive a small donation from its visitors. But there were no further financial interests behind the presentation of the vaporiser. Every curious stoner was invited to test the peculiar device with their own herbs and to find out how it works.

Consisting of a bulbous and corked large fermenting bottle, from which a mouthpiece and a chillum with a correspondingly large head protruded, this vaporizer was still a rather large and primitive monstrosity. Quite loud, but amazingly effective, the active ingredients and terpenes were released from the herbs by means of a standard hot air dryer from the DIY store and transformed in an almost magical way into particularly tasty vapour. In contrast to conventional smoking in a joint or bong, this invention was a real revelation in terms of the previously undreamed-of aroma diversity of cannabis.

Since Eagle Bill's time, numerous important innovations have paved the way for the modern vaporizer and a large industry has developed from the ingenious idea. The thermal extraction of active ingredients has become a science of its own, also because each terpene requires its own temperature. Over the years, the range of vaporisers has become unmanageably large, which of course makes it very difficult for beginners to choose the right device. Extensive testing and trying out of a vaporizer before buying is only possible with Rent-A-Vap by MoJamba.  

The decision to buy one vaporizer or another is therefore mostly based on a mixture of word of mouth, the flowery descriptions of the manufacturer and the individual budget of the buyer.

You don't have to invent the wheel twice

There is no doubt that the development and design of a good vaporizer is an expensive business. It takes a lot of technology and know-how to produce a powerful and at the same time user-friendly device. Marketing, patents and their defence also devour a lot of money and quickly make an innovative newcomer to the market more expensive than it might correspond to the noble ideals of a hip start-up. That is why the price is undoubtedly an important indicator of the quality of a vaporiser.

But this is exactly what the industry knows how to use for its own benefit and cultivates the cliché that more expensive is automatically better with great zeal. Because once a high purchase price has established itself in the minds of the target group as a characteristic of a good vaporizer, the manufacturer benefits in two ways: profits and sales figures increase in equal measure.

A high-priced device is also not so threatened by sinking into the mass of cheap junk and thus into insignificance. And a handsome retail margin also ensures prominent placement on retailers' shelves.

But if the final selling price of a product is not in a corresponding relationship to the manufacturing costs, market prices often fall drastically very quickly. A circumstance that, while very pleasing to the consumer, severely threatens the profit expectations and ultimately also the market shares of companies. Nevertheless, thanks to the preparatory work of leading manufacturers, the basic research into the construction of good vaporisers can now be regarded as complete and no one has to reinvent the wheel from scratch. That's why new vaporisers could theoretically be available much sooner at much lower prices than investors would like.

Which manufacturer doesn't secretly dream of being able to override the laws of the free market economy to their own advantage? But unfortunately for the industry, the only legal way to counteract this natural development is to use the tools of good marketing to create an image of special high quality. Unfortunately, the secret desire to give the self-regulating forces of the markets a little nudge in the desired direction is hindered by stuffy competition law with its annoying rules and regulations. Price agreements are annoyingly strictly forbidden in the free economy and there is only a legal price fixing for press products and tobacco.

However, since long-term price stability is, to make matters worse, also a significant guarantor of returns, even the most idealistic manufacturers quickly find themselves forced to calm nervous investors with creative, regulatory measures and keep them in line.

Schroedinger's prices - or - Where there's no plaintiff, there's no cartel office

As long as no one checks whether they exist, no one can prove that they exist. And a price-fixing agreement that may not even exist is therefore, in a sense, simultaneously illegal and somehow completely legal. Or is it?

Even if one is inclined to attribute a certain deterrent effect to the sanctioning possibilities of German cartel authorities. The risk of being caught is nevertheless very manageable if you stick to just one golden rule: Leave no evidence!

For example, it is difficult to prove an exclusively verbal price agreement, whereby the word agreement should not be interpreted in the sense of a necessarily consensual agreement. For if such a non-existent price agreement already rises above European antitrust law, why should it be subject to any disturbing rules and laws at all. Consequently, the transition from price-fixing to price dictatorship is not an unusual development once the inhibition threshold in terms of fair competition has been broken. The principle follows a simple pecking order: always kick downwards!

What wholesaler would want to make trouble with a supplier just because one of the resellers does not want to play by the rules? So when a manufacturer contacts one of his distributors and politely asks to have an influence on the resellers' pricing, it is no question to whom the wholesaler feels more obliged. Possibly even with the fear of being removed from the list by manufacturer XY and no longer being supplied, the pressure is passed on downwards. After all, wholesalers also have their competitors to whom they are reluctant to leave the field. So the wholesaler complies with the manufacturer's demand and admonishes his customer to keep the price of vaporizer XY at a certain level and not to undercut it.

If necessary, the demand is given a certain emphasis with the subliminal threat that otherwise the wholesaler would unfortunately be forced to stop the supply (of product XY or the entire cooperation). Because in case of doubt, the wholesaler would rather lose a (small) customer than an important supplier. Since only very few end customers would have the idea to complain to the Cartel Office about the strange coincidence that vaporizer XY is offered at almost or even exactly the same price in every shop, the game works pretty well. So, unfortunately, particularly good vaporizers will probably remain particularly expensive.

German thoroughness VS. Scandinavian serenity

In the past, a top dog from the USA as well as a well-known German producer of medical inhalation devices have already taken this approach. What they both had in common was the prudence with which they dictated the prices. Wholesalers and retailers were always pressured by telephone, but never in writing, to adjust prices as desired. The thoroughness of the approach is also reflected in the fact that special prices and offers are often tolerated to a certain extent, which means that the price dictatorship is not so clearly reflected in the retailers' shops.

A new player from the Scandinavian region is far more relaxed in this respect and is probably still quite unafraid of European cartel authorities, even dictating the exact same price for its vaporiser to every shop. In this case, too, gentle pressure is applied to the wholesalers. But this manufacturer does not shy away from personally and conclusively leaving a message on the reseller's answering machine demanding price obedience. Former German President Christian Wulff has already been made to realise what can happen when an emotionally driven message is rashly left on a voicemail.

The big guy is happy, the little guy suffers

Admittedly, a retailer who complains about the need for higher profit margins is whining at a very high level. But as the entire cannabinoid retail sector is painfully aware, the payment and especially the advertising possibilities for online shops on the topic of cannabis are very strongly limited by the restrictions of the large providers. The visibility of their own offers on the net therefore depends to a large extent on the ranking in the search engines for head shops and the like. Large companies in the cannabis industry employ an army of SEO experts for good reason to improve and secure their own positioning in the search engines, or invest a lot of time and money in social marketing.  It is gratifying when such an effort is then rewarded with correspondingly high profits. But small shops often do not have the possibilities of sophisticated search engine optimisation and end up much further down in the search results. Especially good prices are therefore an existential marketing tool and restrictions on free pricing are a threatening attack on the free market economy.