Pubdate: Sun, 18 Jan 2015
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2015 Star Advertiser
Author: Jack Healy, New York Times


Colorado Must Decide How to Deal With Home Hash Oil Efforts That Go 
Up in Flames

DENVER - When Colorado legalized marijuana two years ago, nobody was 
quite ready for the problem of exploding houses.

But that is exactly what firefighters, courts and lawmakers across 
the state are now confronting: amateur marijuana alchemists who are 
turning their kitchens and basements 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.

The trend is not limited to Colorado - officials from Florida to 
Illinois to California have reported similar problems - but the 
blasts are creating a special headache for lawmakers and courts here, 
the state at the center of legal marijuana. 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, and criminal defense lawyers say the practice can no longer 
be considered a crime under the 2012 constitutional amendment that 
made marijuana legal to grow, smoke, process and sell.

"This is uncharted territory," said state Rep. Mike Foote, a Democrat 
from northern Colorado who is grappling with how to address the 
problem of hash-oil explosions. "These things come up for the first 
time, and no one's dealt with them before."

During the past year, a hash-oil explosion in a motel in Grand 
Junction sent two people to a hospital. In Colorado Springs, an 
explosion in a third-floor apartment shook the neighborhood and 
sprayed glass across a parking lot. And in an accident in Denver, 
neighbors reported a "ball of fire" that left three people hospitalized.

The explosions occur as people pump butane fuel through a tube packed 
with raw marijuana plants to draw out the psychoactive ingredient 
tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, producing a golden, highly potent 
concentrate. The process can fill a room with volatile butane vapors 
that can be ignited by an errant spark or flame.

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 has been killed, but the fires have 
wrecked homes and injured dozens of people, including 17 who received 
treatment for severe burns at the University of Colorado Hospital's 
burn center.

The legal complexities played out one snowy morning in a Denver 
courtroom as a district judge puzzled over the case of Paul 
Mannaioni. Mannaioni, 24, was charged with committing fourth-degree 
arson and manufacturing marijuana after explosions ripped through a 
marijuana cooperative in Denver.

When emergency responders showed up, they found Mannaioni and two 
other people with severe burns "all over their arms and legs," 
according to a police affidavit.

To prosecutors, a crime had taken place. Legalization may have given 
licensed and regulated marijuana manufacturing facilities the ability 
to extract hash oil legally in controlled environments, but officials 
say dangerous, homemade operations using flammable butane - a fuel 
for lighters, portable stoves or heaters - are still illegal.

Mannaioni's lawyer, Robert Corry, a prominent marijuana advocate, had 
a different take. When Colorado's voters passed Amendment 64 to 
legalize marijuana for personal use and recreational sales, Corry 
told the judge, they called for a fundamental shift in how Colorado 
treated marijuana. It is no longer an issue for the police and 
courts, he said, but for the regulators and bureaucrats who enforce 
the civil codes surrounding marijuana growers and dispensaries.

The legal system has not budged. The state attorney general has 
weighed in to say legalization does not apply to butane extraction.
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