Pubdate: Fri, 24 Oct 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: Matthew Casey


The responding officer said he smelled the distinctive odor of 
burning flesh when he made contact with three people outside an 
Avondale home in early May. All three had singed hair and blistered 
skin peeling from either their arms or faces, police wrote.

It's the type of scene emergency crews typically encounter when 
saving people from a house fire, or responding to a natural-gas 
explosion, but police and firefighters soon learned they had come 
upon a new sensation in the Valley that has caused alarm among first 
responders in markets with more relaxed marijuana laws.

Two of the three people in the Avondale residential garage near 
Dysart and Buckeye roads were trying to make butane hash oil, which 
is a highly potent form of cannabis concentrate, records show, and 
the experiment nearly turned deadly when a woman walked into the 
highly flammable environment intending to smoke a cigarette.

The explosion was at least the second incident so far this year in 
which Valley authorities suspected hash oil played a role. In 
January, Tempe emergency crews responded to a reported vehicle 
explosion at a convenience store near Southern Avenue and Priest 
Drive. Investigators had said they believed the explosion was caused 
by hash oil from marijuana.

Tempe police later found 26-year-old Bradley Brennan at a local 
hospital where he was treated for injuries sustained when hazardous 
materials, drugs and paraphernalia used to manufacture hash oil 
ignited and caused the explosion, according to Tempe police 
spokeswoman Molly Enright. Charges submitted against Brennan are 
still under review by the county attorney.

Hash oil is produced by using a solvent to extract cannabinoids from 
marijuana plants, but has no resemblance to the resinous material, 
hashish, according to the United States Drug Enforcement 
Administration.The liquid's color and smell vary depending on what 
solvent is used, and a drop or two can have the same effect as a 
marijuana cigarette.

To make butane hash oil, the highly flammable substance is forced 
through an extraction tube containing finely ground marijuana, 
according to federal drug agencies. The process can produce abstracts 
known as dab, wax, shatter or earwax, and as much as 90 percent of 
those products are Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main active 
chemical in marijuana.

"Cheech and Chong couldn't have come up with this in their wildest 
dreams," Kevin Sabet, president and co-founder of of Smart Approaches 
to Marijuana, said about hash oil.

Water, carbon dioxide, butane, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol are 
solvents that can be used to extract hash oil from marijuana, 
according to Phoenix fire officials.

"They put the marijuana leaves in the butane and heat it up," Phoenix 
Fire Inspector Brian Scholl said. "Then you get more vapors and the 
vapors find an ignition source like an electrical outlet or somebody 
smoking and that is how we get the explosion."

Glenn Gould, 35, and the other man had been in the Avondale home's 
enclosed garage using butane to make hash oil, a process they had 
gleaned from watching a YouTube video, Avondale police records show. 
The explosion happened when Margaret Sanidad, 32, entered the garage 
to smoke a cigarette at about 1:30 a.m. on May 4.

The ensuing blast blew off the garage door, which was found on the 
sidewalk in front of the house. None of the other five people inside 
the home - including four children - were injured.

Butane can be used to make hash oil safely, if it's done in a 
ventilated area by professionals using the right equipment, according 
to Jon Gettel, director of AZ 4 NORML, the southern Arizona chapter 
of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"The problem is we have these young people or inexperienced people 
who want to do this and they don't think about ignition sources," he said.

First responders transported Gould, Sanidad and the other man to the 
Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center, where they were 
treated for severe, but non-life-threatening, injuries.

In 2010, Arizona voters approved legalizing medical marijuana and 
efforts are underway to get a legalization proposition on the 2016 ballot.

Hash oil can be ingested orally, applied topically or inhaled using a 
vaporizer pen, said Gettel, also an employee at a Tucson dispensary. 
That can be better for medical marijuana patients needing regular 
dosage because smoking marijuana can irritate the lungs and cause bronchitis.

Gould and the other man told police they did not have 
medical-marijuana cards, records show.

Scholl said the Fire Department does not know any Phoenix medical 
marijuana dispensaries using butane to produce hash oil, but to do it 
legally, they go through a permit process and pass inspection.

The volatile process has caught the attention of public-safety 
officials in states with relaxed marijuana laws, including Colorado, 
where recreational marijuana use became legal this year. Colorado had 
26 confirmed THC extraction lab explosions and 27 reported injuries 
during the first half of 2014, compared with 12 explosions and 18 
injuries for all of 2013, according to the Rocky Mountain High 
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

But those numbers could be higher as the ones reported account only 
for the incidents confirmed by the agency. The Associated Press 
reported in May that Colorado firefighters had dashed to at least 31 
butane hash oil explosions this year.

Colorado's increase in hash oil explosions as well as the Avondale 
incident are evidence that recreational marijuana should remain 
illegal in Arizona, according to Carolyn Short of Keep AZ Drug Free, 
an organization that fought against legalizing medical marijuana.

"Drug dealers are creating toxic waste dumps just like the crystal 
meth labs of yesteryear that we worked to get rid of," Short said 
about manufacturing hash oil.

Using a search warrant, investigators found marijuana and drug 
paraphernalia inside the Avondale home, records show.

The four children-ages 5, 8, 9 and 13 at the time of the 
incident-were turned over to Child Protective Services, records show. 
Two of the children later tested positive for THC, Avondale police confirmed.

A Maricopa County grand jury indicted Gould in August on four counts 
of child abuse and two counts of endangerment, records show.

Gould and Sanidad were also charged with marijuana possession and 
drug paraphernalia but pleaded guilty last month to a reduced charge, 
according to Maricopa County Superior Court records. The 
drug-paraphernalia charges were dismissed.
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