Opinion

Nip dangerous hash oil production in the bud

If you think you’re hearing more and more about hash oil explosions, it’s not your imagination.

Explosions typically happen when amateurs try to make hash oil — a concentrated form of marijuana that can be inhaled or used in edibles — by using a highly flammable solvent such as butane or propane gas or liquid. Without proper ventilation, gases can build up that require only a spark to explode. Some explosions have been so powerful they’ve lifted buildings off their foundations.

Although hash oil explosions have become common enough in the United States that FEMA has issued warnings about its dangers in apartments and hotel rooms, they’ve spiked in Washington and Colorado, where marijuana is now more easily obtained because it’s legal for recreational use.

In Colorado, there were 32 butane explosions involving hash oil in 2014 — three times the number reported in 2013, before marijuana was legalized.

In Washington, the state law legalizing recreational use of marijuana does not explicitly permit or prohibit home production of hash oil for personal use. Legally, it can only be produced in state-licensed facilities. But amateurs, who easily find instructive videos on the Internet, aren’t letting that stop them.

They’re drawn to the higher potency of hash oil, which tends to have 40 to 70 percent THC, the psychoactive chemical in pot. Marijuana sold in dispensaries contains about 12 to 20 percent THC. And hash oil, when used in vape pens, doesn’t emit the easily recognizable smell of marijuana.

The danger, not surprisingly, is that the greater concentration of THC can create a more intense high, and users unfamiliar with the potency can be sickened to the point of passing out.

Senate Bill 5052, legislation that seeks to reconcile the state’s medical and recreational marijuana industries, would clarify that state law does not allow use of butane and other combustibles by any private party. After the state liquor and cannabis board adopts pertinent rules, qualified medical marijuana patients or designated providers would legally be able to use nonexplosive substances — such as cooking oil and butter — to make extracts for noncommercial, personal medical use only.

Young people accustomed to getting their information online are learning one side of the story: how easy it supposedly is to make hash oil at home. They need to learn more about the down side: how easy it is for the amateur chemistry project to go horribly wrong.

Besides clarifying state law, the state should consider public service education on the potentially explosive results of home hash oil production.

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