As marijuana legalization spreads across the U.S. and cannabis moves from counterculture to mainstream, hash oil and concentrates are proving to be more popular with users. In fact, concentrated products accounted for almost one-third of the $10.3 billion legal U.S. market in 2018, more than double the amount in 2015, according to research from New Frontier Data.
Hash oil contains as much as 90 per cent THC, almost five times higher than the typical strength of cannabis flower. And not only is demand for the products going up, but its a lucrative market with higher margins and is drawing more suppliers from the black market looking to cash in.
But the extraction process for cannabis concentrates is proving to be dangerous in the U.S. and explosions are on the rise in underground operations, which are resulting in injury or even death. The process involves using butane, and because it’s odorless it can quickly fill up an enclosed space unnoticed. Meanwhile, a sudden spark from a refrigerator motor or cigarette lighter has instantly destroyed apartment buildings, houses and garages.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), 260 illegal hash-oil labs were reported in 2017, an increase of 38 per cent from the prior year. But a quarter of those were found because they caught on fire.
California has recorded the most illegal labs in the country and although the DEA has reported at least 19 deaths as a result of hash-oil fires since 2014, experts say that number is even higher with more illicit operation going unreported.
The DEA first reported illegal lab activity back in 2005, but since then the situation has worsened and labs have gotten bigger in size as the industry has become more lucrative. Last year, a butane lab in Michigan destroyed an entire apartment building, leaving 80 people without a place to live.
And as marijuana legislation progresses, the problem could get even worse:
– Detective Lieutenant Stuart Sharp
Leave it to professionals
The risk of people experimenting with concentrates indicates consumers are safer buying cannabis from licensed producers rather than turning to black markets or attempting to make it themselves. A quick Google image search of “BHO lab explosion” (butane hash oil) can give plenty of examples of the risks involved.
For a premium price, buying from a licensed producer can give you a higher quality cannabis product consumers won’t find from black market dealers. In mature legal markets like California and Colorado, state-licensed producers use complex systems to produce hash oil and contain the dangerous solvents. The equipment must pass fire codes and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Authorities urge consumers to choose legal sources, which would also help stamp out black market operations. And users won’t have to worry whether neighbors have an illegal butane hash lab that’s ready to blow at any moment.
Educating the public of the risks is also important for companies to ensure users are aware of the dangers associated with the underground labs.