Butane hash oil lab explosions on the rise locally - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Butane hash oil lab explosions on the rise locally

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- A dangerous new trend is putting lives at risk in San Diego county at the rate of once a week.

It involves using highly explosive, butane gas to produce a potent form of marijuana called hash oil.

Just since the beginning of the year, San Diego’s multi-agency Narcotic Task Force has busted 17 hash oil labs locally.  About a third of those labs were discovered when they exploded.

All over the internet you can find how-to videos with step-by-step instructions on making hash oil.

People purchase the materials online, including cans of highly flammable butane gas used to extract THC from marijuana to produce a potent honey oil or wax.

“The process is relatively easy, but people think because it's easy, it's safe,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Gary Hill.  “To the contrary, it's very, very dangerous especially those who use butane gas.”

“The hash oil labs of today are like the meth labs of yesterday,” said Hill.  “Now that we’re seeing more and more states having medical marijuana and legal marijuana, there’s been a higher demand for hash oil,”

Over the past year, agents have seen a steady increase in the number of hash oil labs, like the one that exploded last year at a hotel in the Midway area.

“It devastated seven or eight hotel rooms and fortunately only two people were injured.  Those were the two people who were actually operating the lab in one of the rooms,” Hill said.

Earlier this month, deputies arrested an El Cajon man, Travis Faircloth, on felony charges after serving a search warrant on his home.  Agents found hash oil extractors, 25 bottles of butane and 30 marijuana plants, according to the search warrant.

Faircloth, 30, claims to be a medical marijuana user and plans to fight the charges in court.

“In the state of California it is a felony to manufacture hash oil, using this process that's causing all these explosions,” said Hill, the DEA agent.

“So, even though the state of California may recognize the medical marijuana concept and the selling of that marijuana, it does not recognize the manufacturing of hash oil using a chemical process,” Hill explained.

Still, Hill said the task force is focusing its efforts on labs, not individual users.

“We’re not really focusing on those who are possessing small amounts of hash oil or marijuana as we’re seeing it in the community,” he said.  “That’s not the concern right now.  Our biggest concern is those who are manufacturing it.”

The DEA says one way to spot a hash oil lab is to look in the garbage for empty cans of butane.
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