DENVER (CBS4) – Since recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, fire departments around the state have battled an unanticipated problem — fires linked to people trying to extract hash oil from marijuana in their homes.
In the first five months of 2014 there have been more than 30 hash oil explosions in the state.
The process is not illegal but it is highly volatile if not done by experts in controlled circumstances.
One license hash maker, Brett Mouser of Mahatma Extractions, opened his doors to CBS4 investigators to explain the process.
First, marijuana is loaded into a metal canister and fastened to a machine valued at $100,000. Liquid butane then flows through the marijuana, leaving behind a highly potent end product known as “shatter.”
Mouser said using a closed canister ensures the dangerous gasses never escape.
“It’s a constant recycling system,” he said. “There’s no end butane or any other solvent that escapes the air.”
The state has licensed that method of hash making and firefighters have inspected the system.
“The operation can be done safely,” explained Brian Lukus with the Denver Fire Department. “That’s why we allow it.”
Lukus inspects hash making operations. He says butane hash should only be made in licensed facilities. He said the risk of explosions is too high and the results could be deadly.
Mouser agrees with that assessment.
“The bottom line is we have a situation on our hands here in Colorado and nationally,” he said.
Mouser said many Colorado hash makers learned their trade with those more dangerous methods.
“We all came from somewhat of an open blasting background,” he said.
While he concedes some use those old methods, he said responsible hash makers are making safety a priority.
“We’ve gone from the garage to laboratory methods,” Mouser said. “Now there’s not really an excuse to do open blasting.”
Mouser said lawmakers could take steps to target those hash oil at-home operations, specifically by cracking down on bulk butane sales. That would be taking the same approach used to curtail meth production by limiting the over-the-counter sale of some cold medicines.
“If you limit the sales of cans of butane, I think you will limit the explosions,” Mouser said.
Mouser also said regulators are moving to make sure all hash makers move to that safer closed-loop system by July 1.
It is against fire code to make Hash in a home in Denver and many other municipalities. Violators could face up to 30 days in jail or heavy fines.
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