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Hash oil explosions rise with legalized marijuana


By Sadie Gurman
May. 6, 2014 2:07 AM EDT




DENVER (AP) - The opening months of Colorado's first-in-the-nation recreational marijuana industry have seen a rise in fiery explosions and injuries as pot users try to make the drug's intoxicating oil in crude home-based laboratories.

Since Jan. 1, when sales began, the state's only certified adult burn center has treated 10 people with serious injuries they suffered while making hash oil, compared with 11 in 2013 and one in 2012.

Law enforcement and fire officials, meanwhile, are grappling with how to respond, as the questionable legality of the process has made it difficult to punish amateur chemists. Some prosecutors are charging them with felonies, while others say hash oil production is protected under a provision of the new legal pot law.

"These today are the meth labs of the '90s. We have to change our thinking and what we're looking for," said police Sgt. Pat Long in Thornton, a Denver suburb where officers were puzzled by the city's first hash oil explosion in January.

Hash oil is typically made by packing the castoff leaves and stems of pot plants into a pipe and pouring highly flammable butane through it. The concoction is heated to make the potent oil for far cheaper than it can be purchased in stores.

The golden mixture can be up to 80 percent THC, marijuana's intoxicating chemical, and devotees say one or two drops can produce a more euphoric high than an entire joint. It can also be infused into baked goods or vaporized.

Without proper ventilation, butane fumes can linger. All it takes is a spark of static electricity to ignite a room.

Firefighters in the state have raced to at least 31 butane hash oil explosions this year, compared with 11 last year, according to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, an agency that has only recently started tallying cases.

The data represents only reported and confirmed cases, and the actual number of explosions could be higher, said Kevin Wong, an intelligence analyst for the agency. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," Wong said.

The organization has started training police and firefighters on how to spot the signs of a hash oil explosion. After the Thornton blast, officers found a charred home littered with bottles of butane. They were perplexed, which highlighted the need for more training, Long said.

In recent years, there have been dozens of explosions and injuries in other states where residents can get access to the plant through medical marijuana systems, including California, Washington state and Oregon.

In Washington state, where home pot growing isn't allowed, officials were so concerned about the dangers of producing marijuana extracts for sale in state-licensed shops that they require licensed producers to have an expensive ventilation system.

Colorado marijuana businesses are allowed to manufacture hash oil using butane, but with strict rules. Colorado's pot laws allow adults 21 and over to grow up to six plants at home and cooks often use their own plants to affordably make hash oil in their kitchens or garages.

As a result, explosions have happened primarily on private property.

There were at least five blasts in one week alone last month. In one case, two children had to be rescued from their burning suburban Denver townhome after their father and his girlfriend caused a blast while making the extract.

In that case, authorities charged the homeowner with arson and child abuse, a common punishment for home cooks whose recipes ended in disaster. Denver, where at least eight explosions have occurred, banned home hash oil production under a portion of the building code that prohibits "creating an unsafe environment."

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said his office has pursued felony charges against people simply for cooking hash oil at home five to 10 times so far this year.

But Brian Vicente, who helped write the pot law, said its statute allowing the processing of marijuana plants includes home hash oil production. The law is vague but as the issue has evolved, legislators should step in to find a balance, he said.

Vicente said the fires will decline as people realize the dangers and head to pot shops instead.

Each month, patents arrive at the University of Colorado Hospital's burn center with deep, painful burns, almost all of which require surgery, associate nurse manager Camy Boyle said.

But Wayne Winkler said though it remains cheaper to make the oil at home, he knows the damage such explosions can cause.

In 2012, he agreed to make hash oil as a favor for a friend, but after he made a batch, he saw the butane vapors ignite by an electric stove. The explosion left him with severe burn scars on his hands, arms, neck and face.

"It was the worst pain of my life," said Winkler, who nearly lost his home and family. "It wasn't worth the risk."

Join the discussion

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pvevans01191980 May 06 2014 at 3:41 PM

How many home fires are started each year by careless CIGARETTE smokers? Let ban all smoking in the home

How many home fires have been started this year due to cooking fires? Lets ban all cooking in the home

How many fires have been started this year by people trying to start fires in the fireplace? Lets ban all fireplaces.

How many fires have been started due to improper wiring? Let ban all electricity.

**** happens. It sucks, but it is what it is. People need to be more careful and be smart about what they are doing.

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1 reply
justworkinggirl pvevans01191980 May 06 2014 at 4:08 PM

I don't see anything in the article talking about banning anything. But it does sound like some public education is in order. Clearly we've got people trying to make hash oil, without any understanding of the risks involved, or how to take safety precautions. What is wrong with a few well placed public service announcements telling people that home made labs to make hash are dangerous?

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teeveequeen May 06 2014 at 1:42 PM

due to Barack Hussein Obama, the USA is "going to pot" in more ways than just marijuana ...

1. to go to ruin; to deteriorate
2. to become worse or be spoiled because of a lack of care or effort

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
Walt teeveequeen May 06 2014 at 2:10 PM

WHAT? YOUR MENTAL STATE WAS DETERIORATING WAY BEFOR THIS PRESIDENT.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
secndhandtreasur teeveequeen May 06 2014 at 3:53 PM

I knew some idiot would blame Obama. TY Idiot!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
teaparty2implode May 06 2014 at 1:36 PM

Bill O'Reilly sends a reporter to Colorado to ask questions to people who are stoned on pot. He mocks the people who are stone because they can't answer the questions. Why didn't Bill send a reporter to a location where people are drinking alcohol and are drunk ? I bet they would not be able to answer any questions because they are drunk.

Hypocrisy is the best thing the right wing has going for them.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
6 replies
trifeloco2012 May 06 2014 at 1:29 PM

Sorry critics... no matter how much you pout, no matter how much you shout, no matter what you say: Marijuana is here to stay FOREVER. Accept it. Deal with it. COPE with it.

It says a lot and goes to show everything when people label or judge an entire demographic based on a handful of irresponsible people. Making unfounded blanket statements is not a good look in the real world. It certainly doesn't make you more credible.

So to all the stoners out there, let's keep enjoying out beloved Marijuana. And let's show all of these critics and reefer madness alumni that everything will be just fine and that they're all just paranoid conservatives that have no reason to judge. I would to peer into the lives of each and every single critic JUST to see what is it exactly about them and their lives that make them THAT much better or special. I would bet that many of those same critics are the ones that abuse prescription meds, are drinkers, and destroy their bods via sugar and fast food. LOL!

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b_grossman1 May 06 2014 at 1:28 PM

Americans are getting dumber each day. Our gov't is helping and is already DUMB!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
Walt b_grossman1 May 06 2014 at 2:12 PM

SOUND LIKE A FRUSTRATED CHILD, B_GROSSMAN1, SO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, HELP TEACH KIDS TO BE MORE LIKE YOU ARE, PERFECT IN EVERY WAY.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
o0oooooo0o May 06 2014 at 1:15 PM

I have smoked marijuana, essentially daily, for over 40 years starting around age 15. My high school GPA was 3.4.. my college GPA was 3.8.. the company I started at age 23 is still alive and well.. all three of my children are kind, intelligent successful college graduates (all enjoy pot) with cohesive lives and stable kids of their own.. I am respected by, literally, hundreds of good friends and neighbors.. I pay my bills.. I keep my home in excellent condition.. and the list goes on and on. Always has. As well, I have been associated with hundreds of people in life who pretty much fit my past and present lifestyle who also regularly enjoy marijuana. Believe me, you know them, too.

I have also known people who have never used pot or alcohol even once who are flaming idiots and cannot maintain any aspect of life and community respect.. yet love to pontificate negative on the topic as if they have a clue. Why? Simple fact. Ignorant minds fear their own scope of the unknown.

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8 replies
RockNHula May 06 2014 at 1:13 PM

The present attitude, and reporting,and many of these commentaries, are very similar to the period right after when alcohol was legalized. "Babies overdosing on alcohol" "Elementary kids turning into dealers", It's all BS. With handling and experience, will come care. These isolated incidents are dwarfed by the positive affects of marijuana legalization. It has turned a stagnant housing market into the nation's hottest. It has relieved a tremendous burden and expense from law enforcement, as well as the criminal justice system. It has provided tax dollars to modernize Colorado's infrastructure. It has turned Colorado into the No. 1 tourist state. To paraphrase a line from the old movie that got all of the false and negative perceptions started: "Mary, pass me the reefers!" Everyone have a good day.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
trifeloco2012 May 06 2014 at 1:04 PM

Hello critics and Anti pot people :-)

I just thought I should remind you of everyday reality just for a short moment...

You do not have to be a pothead to start a fire when dealing with highly flammable substances. That can happen to anyone, even sober highly trained professionals.

You do not have to be drunk to be the cause of a automobile accident. That happens to even the most alert and careful of sober drivers.

Just because pot is becoming legal in more and more places around the world, it does not mean there will magically be an influx of new stoners just for the sake of pot's new legal status. Nor does that mean there will magically be a gargantuan increase in incidents involving fires and driving accidents, because guess what? People have been doing that since forever.

Have you been living under a rock your entire lives?!

Please stop using Colorado as the scapegoat for your meaningless, uneducated, pointless, invalid, biased arguments.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
tneill1031 May 06 2014 at 1:02 PM

Hash oil labs exploding, babies overdosing on cookies, elementary kids turing into drug dealers ain't Colorado a great place.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
cwferguson2 May 06 2014 at 12:53 PM

Instead of butane , why not use an organic solvent like alcohol

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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