DIY hash-oil blasts spark debate over felony penalties

Here’s how it works: You buy cheap “trim,” the discarded leaves snipped from cannabis buds. You attach a screen to one end of a pipe and pack it with trim. You blast liquid butane through this contraption and cook honey oil, hash which can be re-sold with a triple return on investment. High product, high profits, right?

The downside: The risk of explosion is high.

A lit cigarette, a refrigerator compressor ignited, even the static electricity from a dog’s tail can turn built up butane into a sphere of blue fire.

“If someone does this in the wrong room at the wrong time, someone is going to die,” said Gary Briese, the executive director of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs. 

Briese said that DIY extraction has caused more than 20 explosions in the past eight months – mostly in homes. While there have been injuries, there haven’t been any recorded deaths. Even so, Briese said butane extraction is the “fastest-growing fire danger in the state.”

Sgt. Scott Pendleton of the Aurora Police Department’s marijuana enforcement team said that in the majority of the 67 warrants his team searched under last year, most large-scale home growers were also processing their crop for hash oil and that butane was the chemical of choice.

Lawmakers have decided the issue is serious enough to merit a bill to make it a Drug Felony Two offense this session. Guilty parties would serve 4 to 8 years and get fined between $3,000 and $750,000.

“When the people of Colorado voted for Amendment 64, they wanted to make sure it was something that was done safely, and exploding houses are not exactly safe,” said sponsor Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette.

Foote, who works as a deputy district attorney in Boulder when the legislature is not in session, said the bill will make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on dangerous at-home extraction rigs and easier for prosecutors to bring cases against DIY hash-oil cooks.

Currently, to stop unlicensed extraction, officers make arrests based on arson laws and statutes limiting how much concentrate people can have. Foote said his bill will go a step further and create a new crime specifically for those who use butane.

“I think we owe it to the public to be very clear in our criminal laws, to line-out in detail the elements of a crime,” said cosponsor Rep. Yeulin Willett, R – Grand Junction. “This makes it real clear what chemicals you can and cannot use, butane being the most commonly used, dangerous one.”

By and large, the recreational marijuana industry supported the bill. Tyler Henson, the president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, agreed that butane hash-oil extraction should only take place in licensed facilities where technicians are highly trained and the equipment is designed to recapture explosive gasses.

“This ensures that we are not only protecting our employees but the community as well,” said Henson in a statement.

The medical-marijuana community is split on the bill, with some rural caregivers saying the restrictions would make it difficult for them to create a product their patients need. Ultimately, the sponsors agreed to exempt some of the less-dangerous extraction methods.

“The bill is very narrow,” said Foote. “The idea was to carve out a big exception here for patients and caregivers and just make sure we’re addressing the most dangerous method that ends up resulting in exploding houses… Alcohol doesn’t explode. Sometimes it catches fire, but it doesn’t explode.”

HB 1305 passed out of the House and is headed to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

Butane extraction rig. Image via Fresno Fire Dept. 


Edit note: The presumptive range for a DF 2 is 4-8 years. Only licensed manufacturers can legally purchase trim at wholesale.