AVON — Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry has taken off with a bang, in some cases literally.
Fiery explosions often ensue as pot users try to extract the drug’s intoxicating oil using crude home-based laboratories. The explosions can result in painful burns, felonies, or both.
Take Joshua Rosenbaum, for example. Police say Rosenbaum, 22, blew an 8-foot hole in the kitchen drywall of his Liftview apartment in Avon. Rosenbaum was trying to produce hash oil, but instead produced an explosion when butane gas ignited.
Some prosecutors are charging hash cookers with felonies, while others say hash oil production is protected under a provision of the new legal pot law.
In Eagle County, District Attorney Bruce Brown says it’s a felony. He charged Rosenbaum with arson and reckless endangerment. He said Rosenbaum exposed others to possible death and serious injury.
If convicted, Rosenbaum could face six years in prison.
When police arrived at the scene, they found the kitchen heavily damaged, the wall behind the stove blown out and an 8-foot hole in the sheet rock.
They also found five butane canisters in the kitchen and a tub of marijuana leaves in the living room.
Rosenbaum was home alone and no one was injured.
Similar explosions have also hit Leadville, Frisco and Avon, said the District Attorney’s office.
“There have been more that 30 butane hash oil explosions in Colorado in the past few months, destroying homes and severely injuring both children and adults,” Brown said. “As Coloradans, we should be setting an example for other states. Leave the hash oil distilling to the professionals.”
Hash oil blows up
Since Jan. 1, when retail marijuana sales began, the state’s only certified adult burn center has treated 10 people with serious injuries they suffered while making hash oil, compared with 11 in 2013 and one in 2012.
Hash oil is typically made by packing the castoff leaves and stems of pot plants into a pipe and pouring highly flammable butane through it. The concoction is heated to make the potent oil. It’s far less expensive than buying it in stores.
The golden-colored mixture can be up to 80 percent THC, marijuana’s intoxicating chemical, and devotees say one or two drops can produce a more euphoric high than an entire joint. It can also be infused into baked goods or vaporized.
But without proper ventilation, butane fumes can linger. All it takes is a spark of static electricity to ignite a room, local firefighters said.
Firefighters in Colorado have handled at least 31 butane hash oil explosions this year, compared with 11 last year, according to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, the agency that has only recently started tallying cases.
The data represents only reported and confirmed cases, and the actual number of explosions could be higher, said Kevin Wong, an intelligence analyst for the agency.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Wong said.
Colorado marijuana businesses are allowed to manufacture hash oil using butane, but with strict rules. Colorado’s pot laws allow adults 21 and older to grow up to six plants at home. Cooks often use their own plants to make hash oil in their kitchens or garages.
There were at least five blasts in one week last month. In one case, two children had to be rescued from their burning suburban Denver townhome after their father and his girlfriend caused a blast while making the extract.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.