For years, it was crystal meth manufacturers who were making the news. With clandestine labs set up in abandoned barns and houses, in RVs, or in the middle of low-rent apartment complexes, explosions, deadly fumes, and toxic waste were consistently in the media as law enforcement busted these labs in every part of the country.
Crackdowns on pseudoephedrine sales and a huge push to find and dismantle somewhat difficult-to-conceal crystal meth labs contributed to their slow decline. Crystal meth began being imported from Mexico in order to meet the demand of American drug users, and then a new, less explosive, and far more portable method of manufacture was developed.
Now in the news are the people who are attempting to make hash oil, a highly concentrated marijuana derivative. Manufacturing methods currently require the use of butane, an extremely flammable substance. As a result, there has been a considerable increase in the number of people who are inadvertently blowing up their homes when the process goes awry, according to The New York Times. So is hash oil the new crystal meth?
The Short Answer
Yes and no. Making hash oil is just as dangerous as the old methods of making crystal meth, so in that sense, yes, hash oil could be replacing crystal meth in terms of the dangers its manufacture poses to the community.
It’s also true that hash oil is an extremely potent form of THC and therefore potentially more addictive than simply smoking marijuana. Though there are few studies done on the subject, it stands to reason that higher levels of THC could make the drug more overwhelming to the system, thus increasing the rates of medical emergency caused by users who take too much of the drug – and increasing the rates of addiction as well.
But hash oil is different in effect than crystal meth, so in terms of how it impacts the user in both short-term and long-term use, the two drugs are exceedingly different.
The bulk of hash oil explosions have occurred in Colorado where marijuana is legal. Most discussion is focusing less on the damage caused by the shoddy attempts at manufacturing the drug and focusing instead on whether or not the drug itself is illegal. Amateurs attempting to isolate the THC in marijuana and create the highly potent hash oil are experiencing a steep learning curve. Some are calling it yet another unexpected consequence of legalizing marijuana for recreational use – and yet another reason why legalization of marijuana isn’t necessarily the best idea for the community at large.
The lawyers representing clients who are prosecuted for the damage caused by their attempt to extract THC from marijuana plants using butane say that it’s not a punishable offense. They believe that if marijuana is legal for purchase, use, manufacture, and distribution then any use of the drug should be legal as well. Opposing these criminal defense attorneys is the state attorney general’s office that says that marijuana was legalized for all those purposes – and not butane extraction.
While the argument broils on in the courts, more and more people are attempting to make hash oil – also called “honey,” “butane hash oil,” or “BHO” – with explosive consequences. The number of explosions across the state caused by attempts to make hash oil rose from 12 in 2013 to 32 in 2014. Dozens of people have been severely injured, and 17 sought treatment for severe burns. It’s a problem that’s not going away.
Alcohol has been legal for recreational use in the United States since Prohibition was repealed via the passage of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution in December of 1933 – but that hasn’t stopped a subsection of the population from continuing to make bootleg alcohol, called moonshine, illegally. Though alcohol is legal, this version technically is not – as may soon be the case for marijuana/hash oil. Though many moonshiners make their product in relatively sanitary conditions and just prefer to avoid paying taxes on their wares, a relatively high percentage of moonshine sold on the black market is unsafe to drink due to high levels of lead content.
Similarly, hash oil comes with its own risks for users. There is no oversight when it comes to THC levels in marijuana, much less hash oil, a product that is designed specifically to produce a strong hit of the substance. Clearly, there is no oversight on how the product is made, and the amateurs who attempt hash oil production take their own safety and the safety of those who live near them in their hands.
It’s unlikely – and unreasonable – to expect this to go unregulated for very long. Community safety has continually been a major focus in the discussion of the pros and cons of marijuana legalization. If something is causing physical harm and explosions, it will be a great surprise if either hash oil itself or the manufacturing process does not become heavily regulated in the very near future.
Making Good Choices
At the end of the day, legal or not, individuals have to take responsibility for their own choices. It’s likely that even if the Colorado state government opts to outlaw butane extractions of marijuana that there will still be people who attempt the process. Much like the moonshiners who refuse to follow the rules, there will always be people who would rather take their chances with the law – and their own health – than take advantage of legally available options.