Explosions in Colorado linked to legalized marijuana


Wayne Winkler suffered burns to 12 percent of his body when butane fumes ignited while he was making hash oil at home. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Since the legalization of recreational weed in Colorado earlier this year, hash oil has been blowing up — literally. The state claims it has seen an increase in the number of fiery explosions and related injuries, and it is blaming manufacture of the marijuana byproduct.

CBS reported that investigators believe a hash-oil explosion was the cause of a house fire Monday morning in Denver. Police said no one was hurt, but the basement and first floor were wrecked.

“I was startled out of a dead sleep. I heard glass shattering,” neighbor Joules Poolski told CBS Denver.

More than a dozen other explosions in the Denver area alone this year have been linked to people cooking hash oil, CBS reported. Since the commercial sale of marijuana was legalized in the state in January, Colorado’s only certified adult burn center has treated 10 people with serious injuries they suffered making the oil, compared to 11 in 2013 and one in 2012, according to the Associated Press — and no one is sure what to do:

Law enforcement and fire officials, meanwhile, are grappling with how to respond, as the questionable legality of the process has made it difficult to punish amateur chemists. Some prosecutors are charging them with felonies, while others say hash oil production is protected under a provision of the new legal pot law.

‘These today are the meth labs of the ’90s. We have to change our thinking and what we’re looking for,’ said police Sgt. Pat Long in Thornton, a Denver suburb where officers were puzzled by the city’s first hash oil explosion in January.

The buzzkill: butane.

Showtime’s “Weeds” may have taught its audience how to make hash in a washing machine, but today’s cooks are pushing butane through pipes or other containers filled with dried marijuana clippings to create hash oil. The solvent is used to strip THC — what gets marijuana users high — out of the plants, leaving an oily liquid that’s then heated to evaporate the butane, USA Today reported. The butane sinks to bottom, where it can ignite. And because butane fumes can linger, all it takes is a spark of static electricity to turn a room into a deathtrap.

Colorado marijuana businesses are allowed to make hash oil using butane under strict rules. State pot laws allow adults 21 and older to grow up to six plants at home, and cooks make hash oil in their kitchens or garages, the AP reported.

It may be cheaper to make hash oil at home, but Wayne Winkler told the AP it may not be worth the savings. He said an explosion left him with severe burn scars on his hands, arms, neck and face after he agreed to make some hash oil for a friend in 2012.

“It was the worst pain of my life,” he told the AP. “It wasn’t worth the risk.”

Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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