Guy W. Farmer: Hash oil explosions, part 2

Following-up on last Sunday’s column about so-called “medical” marijuana, today I’ll write about a dangerous and potentially fatal hazard associated with marijuana legalization: Hash oil explosions. We should pay attention to this hazard because Carson City will “welcome” two medical pot shops and at least two “grow” operations later this year.

A couple of people accused me of “fear mongering” when I wrote about hash oil explosions in the Greater Seattle area last year. That was after Seattle’s U.S. Attorney, Jenny Durkan, filed criminal charges against eight people in connection with hash oil explosions, one of which killed the former mayor of Bellevue, Wash., in an upscale apartment building in downtown Bellevue, the state’s second largest city. Both medical and recreational pot are legal in my former home state of Washington.

“There is no legal way to make hash oil,” Ms. Durkan told the Seattle Times. “A hash oil explosion is like a bomb going off in a home.” The Times explained hash oil is made by stuffing a glass or steel container with marijuana leaves before flooding them with a volatile solvent such as butane. That process produces a golden brown goo, which is purged of solvent by boiling it off using butane. According to the Times, “Butane can puddle in a closed room and a tiny spark can cause a huge explosion.”

So was I fear mongering when I wrote about hash oil explosions? The venerable New York Times doesn’t think so after publishing a Denver-datelined article last month titled “Odd Byproduct of Legal Marijuana: Homes That Blow Up.” “When Colorado legalized marijuana two years ago, nobody was quite ready for the problem of exploding houses,” wrote Times correspondent Jack Healy. “But that’s exactly what firefighters, courts and lawmakers . . . are confronting these days, amateur marijuana alchemists who are turning their kitchens into ‘Breaking Bad’-style laboratories using flammable chemicals to extract potent drops of a marijuana concentrate commonly called hash oil, and sometimes accidentally blowing up their homes and lighting themselves on fire in the process.”

Well, this is what we can look forward to in the Silver State later this year thanks to Nevadans who voted to legalize “medical” marijuana and lawmakers who are finalizing rules and regulations for the sale and cultivation of the weed throughout our state. I hope our elected representatives will take a close look at this explosive issue during the current session of the State Legislature in Carson.

“Even as cities try to clamp down on homemade hash oil and lawmakers consider outlawing it, some enthusiasts argue for their right to make it ‘safely’ without butane,” Jack Healy wrote.

He cited deadly hash oil explosions in a Grand Junction motel, an upscale Colorado Springs building, and a Denver explosion which produced a “ball of fire” that left three people hospitalized. Closer to home, the Reno Gazette - Journal reported at least six hash oil explosions in Reno last year that sent several people to the hospital.

There were 32 such blasts across Colorado in 2014, up from 12 a year earlier, according to the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which coordinates federal and state drug enforcement efforts.

No one was killed, but fires wrecked homes and injured dozens of people, including 17 who received treatment for severe burns at the University of Colorado Burn Center. The Nevada Legislature should pay particular attention to the possibility of hash oil explosions as medical pot shops and “grow” operations open their doors in the Silver State. Frankly, I’d rather not write an “I told you so” column later this year.

Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, doesn’t think marijuana smoke is “medicine.” How about you?


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