By Sarahi Apaez
The process to make butane hash oil can result in explosions and chemical fires.
Butane hash oil, also known as wax, honey oil, shatter, and dab, is made by butane extraction. This process is used to create butane hash oil containing large amounts of THC, the intoxicant in marijuana, by blasting marijuana with butane.
Butane is odorless and can be easily ignited, and is typically used as camp fuel, propellant, and lighter fluid. Many explosions occur as a result of handling chemicals in an unsafe, non-lab environment such as a house.
Arcata joined a growing list of cities regulating butane products due to concerns over dangers from its use in producing butane hash oil.
In an effort to deter people from exploding their homes, garages and other residential areas, Arcata City Council approved an ordinance that regulates the sale and possession of butane.
City Attorney Nancy Diamond attended the Arcata City Council meeting held on Jan. 4 when the ordinance was approved.
“Because butane is highly volatile and it is being used in an unregulated context,” Diamond said. “It is causing a particular hazard to the public and first responders.”
The typical consumer container of butane is 300 ml as opposed to a typical refillable lighter which contains about 5.5 ml.
Arcata City Councilmember Michael Winkler approved the ordinance due to his concern for an increase in public safety and the overall hazard associated with butane use for extraction of THC.
Since the ordinance having gone into effect on Feb. 4, there have been two fires where there have been leads to the use of butane, according to Arcata Fire District Chief Justin McDonald.
On Jan. 8, there was one incident which according to the report was most likely drug related, according to Arcata Fire Chief Justin McDonald.
In Manila on Jan. 14, inside a trailer, a butane hash oil explosion occurred due the extraction process that blew the doors and the windows out of the building.
“It absolutely ripped the trailer park apart,” McDonald said. “When our crews got there, the exterior walls were blown 15 to 20 feet out.”
Not many drug related fires can compare to those of butane fires, according to McDonald. Grow house fires, where someone converts a single family residence into a grow operation, don’t grow as rapidly as a butane explosion, according to McDonald.
“The fire starts off slow and then builds versus the butane goes, boom, it’s big,” McDonald said.
In 2016, two people were injured after they ignited their cigarette in their car after making butane hash oil in their car, according to McDonald.
McDonald has been seeing the evolution of these types of incidents, which he calls catastrophic, while being in the Arcata Fire District for 23 years.
“The ones [fires] that I have been to, the windows and doors have been blown out of the buildings and if people are in there quite often they are pretty severely burned,” McDonald said. “Hair burned off or singed and skin burned off and hanging from their arms.”
The most recent explosion in Manila in Midway Court was the most devastating butane related incident that McDonald has seen.
“There were butane bottles zinging through the air because they were still exploding,” McDonald said. “There were enough butane canisters that sustained and kept burning.”
Arcata has had a history of butane hash oil explosions with six occurring within the last four years. Eureka has also had its number of incidents and has had regulations on butane since Nov. 2016.
In Nov. 2016, California voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Now adults over the age of 21 can partake in using, possessing and sharing cannabis, as well as growing it at home.
Under California law, it’s legal for medical marijuana patients to purchase butane hash oil, but the process of making the oil is illegal.
A law recently signed, called AB 2679, which will go into effect in 2018, provides a framework for legitimate marijuana manufacturers and allows the extraction process to occur under certain conditions.
AB 2679 addresses the problem of law enforcement now not being able to shut down facilities that have obtained permits by the city for manufacturing. This law clarifies specific requirements both for a legal form of butane extraction and for extraction using solvents that don’t allow fumes to escape during the process.
Labs often use solvents to extract the psychoactive ingredient THC from dry marijuana. The process produces a gooey residue that contains a highly concentrated dose of THC and is widely popular at medical marijuana dispensaries.
“I am not against the licensed process of butane extraction, but it has to be done with the proper permits,” Winkler said. “The city of Arcata will issue permits for manufacturing butane extraction that is legal and safe.”
Patients, pot identification card-holders, caregivers, collectives and cooperatives will not face state criminal sanctions if they follow the new rules.
Up until this new law, all forms of butane extraction in California were illegal. The process of creating butane hash oil is legal in places like Colorado.
The city’s ordinance prohibits retailers from selling more than 600 ml of butane to a buyer in one month. One can of butane contains 320 ml. The law would make it illegal for any person who is not a vendor to have more than 600 ml of butane at any given time.
Store retailers are required to track the sale of butane canisters and and record the buyer’s name and address and keep this record on file for two years. This is for the city to be aware of their own butane sales and to keep track of an individual’s butane purchases.
Along with this, butane cans must be placed in glass cases within the store where purchasers would not have access without an employee’s assistance.
Butane cans are now stored in inaccessible glass cases, where purchasers cannot access without employee assistance.
“Stores would sell cases of butane, twelve at a time,” Winkler said. “Now there is a monthly limit and stricter rules on how many can be bought at one time.”
These prohibitions are similar among the various butane sales regulation ordinances adopted across the state to date, according to the ordinance.
Violators of the ordinance would be charged with a misdemeanor or an infraction.