On Nov. 5, 2013, an explosion ripped through a Bellevue, Washington, apartment complex. Three residents were injured while attempting to escape the fire that followed the explosion, and one of them, a former mayor of Bellevue, later died from her injuries. It was soon discovered that the explosion was caused by people attempting to extract hash oil from marijuana using butane, a highly flammable solvent. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident.
Over the course of several months, there were similar explosions around Washington caused by amateur attempts at extraction. One explosion in Puyallup caused the destruction of a car and covered the property with more than 300 cans of butane and pounds of marijuana.
Not surprisingly, this series of explosions caught the attention of authorities. Arrests were made, and on June 22, 2014, eight people were charged in federal court as part of what authorities called “Operation Shattered,” a name that alludes to the fact that one of the forms concentrate can take is often referred to as “shatter.” A series of arrests were also made following explosions in Southern California as part of an investigation imaginatively dubbed “Operation Shattered Dreams.”
The fact that these products are so popular yet so hazardous when produced by people with inadequate training and equipment illustrates the benefits of legalization and regulation.
Marijuana concentrates: potent and versatile
The popularity of concentrates stems from their potency and versatility. The Revised Code of Washington, the RCW, defines concentrates as “products consisting wholly or in part of the resin extracted from any part of the plant Cannabis and having a THC concentration greater than sixty percent.”
Concentrates can be combined with other marijuana products, ingested in pill form or tincture, infused into edible products, or smoked on their own, a process referred to as “dabbing.” Concentrates are also being used with vaporizer pens, often called “e-cigs.”
Sale of concentrates originally prohibited, consumers turn to black market
The hazards associated with the production of concentrates can be almost entirely eliminated with proper training and equipment. However, although the processing of concentrates has always been allowed under the state initiative on marijuana reform, I-502, the sale of concentrates to the public has not.
Initially, concentrates could only be sold to other licensed processers to be used to create infused cannabis products. As originally drafted in I-502 and codified in the RCW, recreational marijuana retail stores would make “useable marijuana and marijuana-infused products available for sale.” This exclusion of concentrates was echoed in the Washington Administrative Code, the WAC. The relevant section of code states:
A marijuana retailer license allows the licensee to sell only usable marijuana, marijuana-infused products, and marijuana paraphernalia at retail in retail outlets to persons twenty-one years of age and older.
That section goes on to more explicitly address the prohibition on retail outlets selling concentrates:
Marijuana extracts, such as hash, hash oil, shatter, and wax can be infused in products sold in a marijuana retail store, but RCW 69.50.354 does not allow the sale of extracts that are not infused in products. A marijuana extract does not meet the definition of a marijuana-infused product per RCW 69.50.101.
It is arguable that not allowing recreational marijuana consumers to legally purchase concentrates increases the demand on the black market, thus increasing the incentive for dangerous production operations like those responsible for the explosions.
Washington State passes bill, allowing sale of concentrates in 2014
This is likely one of the reasons why the Washington State Legislature passed a bill allowing the sale of concentrates from retail stores in May of 2014. The bill became effective in June, and in October the Liquor Control Board, the LCB, proposed changes to the WAC to allow the sale of concentrates. The proposed changes amend the code to read:
A marijuana retailer license allows the licensee to sell only usable marijuana, marijuana concentrates, marijuana-infused products, and marijuana paraphernalia at retail in retail outlets to persons twenty-one years of age and older.
The proposal also removes entirely the paragraph outlining the prohibition on selling extracts that are not infused.
New safety requirements for concentrate processors
In addition to changes allowing retail stores to sell concentrates, the LCB also proposed changes to the safety requirements of processors. The most notable of these changes requires equipment used by processors to be certified by the LCB to ensure that the equipment is “commercially manufactured and built to codes of recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices.” The state’s fire marshall must approve all concentrate producing facilities.
Legalization improves safety, curbs black market
When viewed together, these proposed changes clearly illustrate the benefits of legalization. People will seek out concentrates, and if they cannot find them legally, they will find them on the black market. As black market concentrates are entirely unregulated, the products can contain harmful chemicals and production can be extremely dangerous.
By legalizing the production and sale of concentrates, the LCB provides incentive to consumers to go to state-licensed stores and provides incentive to producers to operate safely and within legal oversight. This is of great value to the public in general, as the numbers of poorly made products and residential explosions should drop dramatically.
Photo via High Times