Editorials

When death isn’t a big enough deterrent to making this marijuana

Marijuana plants grow at a greenhouse.
Marijuana plants grow at a greenhouse. AP

Smoke it. Eat it. Drink it. Slather yourself in marijuana-infused lotion and ointments.

California voters have decided – against our better judgment – that adults who want to use weed should be able to do it legally. Just don’t give the drug to kids, voters said in approving Proposition 64. And whatever you do, don’t blow up your house or kill someone trying to get an even bigger high by trying produce to hash oil.

It’s that last point that has remained particularly tough to enforce.

For the past decade, Sacramento County been tracking a spike in explosions and fires from illegal hash oil labs, tucked into dense neighborhoods and hidden on rural hillsides.

Hash oil, also known as honey oil or dabs, is a wax-like substance popular for its potency. It is made by stuffing chopped up marijuana into a tube and then pouring butane – a flammable liquid typically used to fuel camp stoves and cigarette lighters –through it to strip away the high-producing chemical THC. The greenish liquid is then heated to evaporate the butane, leaving a THC concentrate that can be smoked or baked into edibles.

Apparently joints and bongs aren’t good enough anymore.

It’s the last step of the hash-oil-making process where most YouTube-trained chemists screw up. It takes only a tiny spark, say from a wall outlet, to turn the butane vapor into a fireball. Explosions happen so often that 7 percent of the burn patients at UC Davis Medical Center were injured in them.

And yet death doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent. Now that marijuana is legal, there’s a chance even more hash oil labs could spring up.

So far, they have grown like, well, weeds in spite of the many attempts to kill them with stricter penalties for operators. But Sacramento County’s supervisors are wisely trying another strategy.

Last week, they voted to restrict the amount of butane that retailers can sell, taking a page from successful efforts to eliminate meth labs by restricting access to the essential ingredient to making meth – the cold medicine drug pseudoephedrine. Starting in June, stores will be able to sell only up to 600 milliliters of butane at a time, and they’ll have to record information about every sale and every buyer.

Opportunistic liquor stores that have started selling large quantities of it in poor neighborhoods will feel the burn immediately, which is good.

Residents also will be prohibited from possessing more than 600 milliliters of it at a given time – a deterrent to those who would stock up online. Typically, butane comes in cans of 300 milliliters.

It’s a smart, market-driven ordinance that could have an effect where other laws have failed. So it’s good that, at the behest of council member Eric Guerra, the city is considering a similar policy, and Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, authored Assembly Bill 1120 to do the same thing statewide.

Marijuana growers eager to build a legitimate industry should embrace restrictions on butane. The laws aren’t likely to create headaches for them, as most commercial producers have switched from using butane to carbon dioxide to make hash oil. It’s safer. And increasing the amount of hash oil that’s available at dispensaries is what could really nip illegal labs in the bud.

There’s no need to blow up yourself to make something you can buy legally. That’s something even we, the Proposition 64 detractors, can support.

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