FEMA: Hash oil explosions on the rise

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Marijuana was considered safe enough for Coloradans to legalize, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally risk-free.

It’s a lesson learned the hard way by a man who apparently blew himself up in Colorado Springs last Wednesday while extracting hash oil near a creek where he’d been camping.

The explosion set off a bizarre string of events that included his getting punched out by a garage owner he then confronted with a machete and a hatchet, and with the police closing off a city street fearing that he’d left behind a bag full of pipe bombs.

According to a story in the Colorado Springs Gazette — and a looser telling in the UK’s The Register — the man, whom police haven’t publicly identified, bungled a hash oil extraction process and badly burned both himself and a woman who was with him.

Hash oil contains highly concentrated amounts of THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, and it’s often leached from the leaves of a cannabis plant using butane.

The butane must then be boiled off, which creates such a hazard of accidental explosion that the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a warning about it to first responders in February. It singled out states that have legalized pot as showing increased incidences of mishaps.

“The extraction method appears to be more common on the west coast; reported fires and explosions have blown out windows, walls and caused numerous burn injuries,” the FEMA warning reads.

“Butane is necessary for the process and is available over-the-counter in 8-ounce cans,” the FEMA warning continues. “The extraction process uses one whole can and multiple cans will likely be at the scene. Butane is highly explosive, colorless, odorless and heavier than air and therefore can travel along the floor until it encounters an ignition source.”

Police quoted in the Gazette article did not mention a possible ignition source, but The Register ventured a guess.

“The Colorado Springs oilman may have been indulging in his own (or a related) product during the explosion,” the article reads, “as following the blast his first move was to mount an addled, ineffectual armed robbery at the garage where he lost his equipment.”

In fact, it appears that the alleged robbery occurred on Sunday. Reuben Miller, the owner of a transmission shop near where the accident occurred, recognized the burned man from surveillance video that allegedly shows him stealing parts of a washer and dryer.

“I said, ‘You are stealing my stuff,'” Miller is quoted as saying in the Gazette when he confronted the man, not realizing he’d just been injured. “He said, ‘I don’t have time for you. I’m going to the hospital,’ and pulled out a machete.”

Miller punched him in the face a few times and the man then wandered into a nearby motel seeking help. Police say he also wielded a hatchet at Miller.

Police closed a portion of the street near where the accident happened when they discovered duffel bags full of cylindrical objects they took to be pipe bombs.  A robot sent to the scene, however, discovered that they were marijuana pipes used in the hash oil extraction process.

According to witness statements in the Gazette, the man suffered burns on his back and hands. There was no further information available as to his condition or that of the woman.

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