Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jul 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Edmundo Carrillo


Regulations May Result From Enquiry

SANTA FE - An explosion at a Santa Fe medical marijuana dispensary 
that severely burned two employees is being investigated by federal 
Drug Enforcement Administration and multiple city and state agencies.

Nicholas Montoya, 29, and Aaron Smith, believed to be 28, were 
severely burned while using butane and propane in a process to 
extract THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, from cannabis around 4:40 p.m. 
on Thursday at NewMexiCann Natural Medicine, one of the state's 
licensed medical pot producers. A process using butane and boiling 
over heat is widely used to produce concentrated hash oil.

Both NewMexiCann workers remained at University of New Mexico 
Hospital in Albuquerque. Montoya was listed in critical condition, 
while Smith is in stable condition, according to Santa Fe Police Lt. 
Andrea Dobyns.

On Friday morning, Santa Fe's police, fire and Land Use departments 
all had representatives at the scene.

Dobyns said DEA personnel came to the building at the end of San 
Mateo Lane and seized evidence, and that the agency is looking into 
why the explosion occurred. The city agencies are investigating to 
see if there were any land use, building, permit or fire code 
violations. "We're looking to see if anything is not in order," said 
City Hall spokesperson Matt Ross.

Allison Majure of the New Mexico Environment Department said the 
department's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau "has been notified 
and is conducting the usual on-site investigation."

"We're in wait-and-see mode right now," she said. "We try to prevent 
conditions and situations like this."

No NewMexiCann employees at the scene would comment, but they did 
provide a written statement: "We have experienced an accident at our 
facility. We are currently closed to patients. We hope to be 
available and open to patients by early next week. Please send 
thoughts and positive energy for our people."

To make what's known as BHO (butane hash oil), THC is extracted from 
cannabis when butane is strained through it. The butane is then 
evaporated, or purged, typically through boiling, which leaves a waxy 
or honeylike concentrate that has a high THC concentration.

News reports indicate that BHO has become increasingly popular, 
including at medical marijuana establishments. Home-brewing of BHO 
has become a dangerous offshoot. In Colorado, where marijuana has 
been legalized, there were 32 explosions from ignition of butane or 
vapors at homes, motels or other places where people were trying to 
make hash oil in 2014, the New York Times reported in January. Dozens 
were injured and homes were wrecked.

Jason Marks, an Albuquerque lawyer who represents Cannabis Producers 
of New Mexico Inc., said the organization of 19 of the state's 23 
licensed medical pot producers is fully aware that making hash oil 
can be dangerous. "The producers' position is that it is safe to be 
done professionally," Marks said. "It's certainly not something that 
people should be doing at home. We'll see additional measures to 
prevent this from happening. We can't say what they are until we know 
what happened. Despite this accident, it's still safer to be done in 
a professional environment."

Marks said many medical pot patients rely on hash oil to treat 
ailments and that it is important that producers provide it or 
patients might try the dangerous process themselves. "The extracts 
are medically very useful," Marks said. "The use of these extracts 
provide immediate relief."

Kenny Vigil of the state Department of Health, which is in charge of 
the medical marijuana program, said hash oil production is allowed, 
but he had little to say when asked about any regulation of the oil's 
production. "This is an active investigation, and the department will 
be cooperating with investigators as they gather facts about what 
happened," Vigil wrote in an email.

Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico director of the Drug Policy Alliance, 
which supports marijuana legalization, said she knew little of the 
incident, but said it should be treated as a workplace incident. "We 
will think about ways to regulate and prevent injuries to employees," 
she said. "This should be treated like any other hazard in an 
employment setting. Our hearts go out to those employees who were harmed."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom