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Big Isle marijuana ‘hash oil’ lab explodes, severely burning chemist


The recent explosion at a butane honey oil lab on Hawaii island serves as evidence that a growing and dangerous practice on the mainland has reached Hawaii shores, police say.

“It’s been happening all over the United States, said Hawaii County police Lt. Mark Farias, who recently attended a mainland conference where he learned about the dangers of the extraction of butane honey oil, a byproduct of marijuana that is smoked and “vaped” in e-cigarettes.

“We’ve been seeing more and more of the finished product and components to extract it,” he said.

Unlike a meth lab, however, no actual cooking takes place in a butane honey oil lab.

During the extraction process, canned butane is dispensed into a container of marijuana. The butane acts as a solvent, stripping the plant of its potent oils. That liquid is placed in a water bath and the butane is boiled off, resulting in a concentrated product also known as hash oil or dabs.

On Saturday night, a powerful blast at a lab in Puna blew off cabinet doors, melted metal pipes, knocked out windows and seriously injured a 30-year-old Keaau man, Hawaii County police said.  

The man was taken by private vehicle to a fire station, transported by ambulance to Hilo Medical Center with third-degree burns, and later transferred to an Oahu hospital.

“If your neighbors are doing this, it could affect your kids; it could affect you,” Farias said of the violent blast. Although no other homes were damaged, the fire blistered the paint on the door’s exterior.

Police recovered 102 marijuana plants from an indoor growing operation, more than an ounce of butane honey oil, three e-cigarettes, and components used to manufacture the oil.

The oil derivative can contain up to 100 percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, Farias said. It has a honey-like consistency but is slightly less viscous.

Honolulu police recently confiscated a parcel containing e-cigarettes and a liquid substance that tested positive for THC, but no arrests have been made, said Teresa Bell, a spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department.

Farias noted that while marijuana users often smoke the buds of the plant, the usually discarded trimmings can be used to derive the potent oil.

In February, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s U.S. Fire Administration alerted the emergency services sector that explosions from these home labs during a process using butane to extract and concentrate compounds from marijuana are increasing across the country.

These explosions are sometimes misidentified as pipe bombs or meth labs because of the extraction vessel used, the FEMA article said.

The initial explosions can lead to secondary explosions and fires, FEMA reported. 

“Butane is highly explosive, colorless, odorless and heavier than air and therefore can travel along the floor until it encounters an ignition source,” it said.

Butane honey oil has been around for a while and smoked, but is now being “vaped” in e-cigarettes, without the smelly smoke of a joint.

Rolling Stone magazine reported June 20 that butane honey oil costs between $25 and $100 a gram, depending on where you live.

A Dec. 4, 2003, Cannabis Culture Marijuana Magazine article said: “It’s the concentrated liquid essence of marijuana, and it doesn’t take much of it to completely stone you, though it’s mind numbing power makes it an acquired taste.”

The oil can be spread on a paper and rolled into a joint, inhaled through a straw from a hot knife, steamed in a vaporizer or dropped onto ashes in a bong, the magazine said.

Anyone with information about any butane honey oil lab is asked to call police at 808-935-3311 or CrimeStoppers at 961-8300 in Hilo or 329-8181 in Kona.

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