Raids On Extraction Labs Point To More Holes In The Laws


With the arrests of nine people on felony charges recently after coordinated raids around San Diego by a task force including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the mainstream press appears to have gotten wind of something the DEA is calling “a growing offshoot of the illicit drug trade.” 

They’re calling the phenomenon “hash oil labs.”

What they’re talking about is extraction

Shatter. Concentrate. Dabs. Hash oil. Honey oil. 

Call it what you will. It’s marijuana extract and you can buy it legally in most collectives in California with a medicard. 

But as of this moment, as became apparent to nine more people this week in San Diego, extraction is illegal. These raids, according to authorities, came on the heels of some 17 other similar raids in the area recently.

Which brings us to yet another ridiculous hole in the swiss-cheese of laws and regulations that govern the use of marijuana in this nation.

If we can buy this stuff, how can it be illegal to make it?

Extracts are know for a heavy high and lung-kicking expansion, which causes a trademark aftercough. Importantly, the smoke is said to be odorless (connoisseurs will rightly disagree on this point; like fine wine there is a particular taste and nose to every batch of concentrate). 

But the point is, there is no heavy and tell-tale skunky odor. The buzz word is “discreet.” The vapor expelled from the lungs doesn’t even trip the usual home fire alarm. Meaning extracts are perfect for dorm rooms, apartment buildings, nursing homes. And easily measurable for percentages of active ingredients — the reason why many say marijuana extracts are the stuff of the future, a time when doses and strains will be able to be more accurately prescribed. 

Right now, you get a medicard and you roll the dice on exactly what kind of weed you’re buying. In the future, doctors could prescribe (or partiers could chose) the blend of ingredients (THC, CBD) being ingested.  

In fact, the newest laws passed by New York, the 23rd state to legalize marijuana for medical use, only allows for patients to consume marijuana though food, oils, pill, or vapors — no smoking of flower is allowed. 

Meaning that most of the pot consumed will be in the form of marijuana concentrates, which are made by extractors at the so called “hash oil labs” the DEA has been busting.     

Authorities say that the busts in and around San Diego were partially instigated by some 20 explosions and fires over the last 12 months at so-called hash labs. Extracting wax from marijuana flower requires heat and solvent. While some extractors have experimented with a process utilizing CO2, industrial strength butane gas — odorless, colorless, and highly explosive — is often the solvent of choice. There is argument aplenty among enthusiasts and makers about which process creates the most desirable products, factoring in both taste and strength. As in any business, there are artists and hacks, short order cooks and chefs.

“What we have is an amateurish, uncontrolled use of large amounts of explosives in enclosed or improperly vented spaces,” a San Diego deputy district attorney told the Los Angeles Times.

Last year, an explosion at a motel near the port of San Diego, attributed to an amateur hash oil lab, burned two men and a women. One of the men was seen running down the street, engulfed in flames, screaming.

Not exactly Breaking Bad

The nine arrested in last week’s raids, according to the DEA, were not related to previous fires. All face drug charges. One couple faces child endangerment charges for allegedly setting up their lab in close proximity to their toddler’s bedroom. 

Law enforcement sources say there has been an increase in labs extracting oil from marijuana. A task force of state and federal agencies have identified more than fifty clandestine labs in the San Diego area alone.

No doubt many of them sell their product to legal dispensaries around the area. Where customers can buy their product legally and go along on their merry way.

If concentrates are legal, then extracting concentrates — call it hash oil, wax, shatter, dabs, honey oil, what  have you — needs to be legal as well. What kind of bullshit childish game are we playing here? 

Kind of reminds me of the time, a few years ago, when it became legal in some states to BUY marijuana, but remained illegal to GROW.

So of course extractors are making their shit in clandestine labs. There’s no such thing as a legal lab, is there? 

Which is to say, if it was legal to extract, there would be no more need for garages and basements and toddler endangerment. Entrepreneurs would be able to rent the appropriately ventilated and zoned factory spaces and turn their mad stoner chemists loose.

"The demand for cannabis oils, edibles, and concentrates continues to rise as some consumers find that they prefer to vaporize or eat their cannabis — whether it's for the different high, the more discreet consumption, or more lung-friendly medical use,” says Nushin Rashidian, co-author with Alyson Martin of  A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition, an in-depth study of the nation’s marijuana laws. 

 “The problem is that the creation of concentrates should be done by experienced and licensed professionals in secure environments, not in homes where they can lead to explosions and injuries. In the absence of such licensing, the rising demand will be met in many instances by amateurs and with lower-quality products," Rashidian says.

As it is, the extraction process is becoming safer and more standardized with the appearance on the market of closed-system extractors (which can be legally purchased from anyone who is offering them for sale). Likewise, the process of extraction, due to the good old American spirit of tinkering things into perfection, is evolving in leaps and bounds, more and more becoming a refined process, considered by its practitioners to be a blend of art and science, like winemaking or other artisanal pursuits.

Across the country there have sprung up a number of underground competitions to rate the best products manufactured. Untold amounts of money are being put into development of newer, better, stronger, easier methods of extraction. (Not to mention the burgeoning market in the glass pipes and accessories used for dabbing, the most ornate of which can run more than tens of thousands of dollars.)

This past summer, the US House of Representatives voted in favor of a line item on a budget bill eliminating funds for DEA operations such as this. (A states rights issue: How is it the feds should be allowed to interfere with laws passed legally by a state? Sound familiar?)  It was a meaningless vote, part of the vast and complicated budget process. But it was a beginning, or so we thought.

Now we learn again of task forces being assembled. It feels like the War on Drugs, which we thought was winding down,  after some four trillion dollars dubiously spent, is starting up all over again — just as more states are legalizing.

Pay attention, readers. There is hypocrisy all around. 

Right now, the marijuana industry, including accessories, is worth $1.5 billion a year. Estimates call for a quadrupling of that amount in four years. Marijuana proponents united as a voting block could be a huge force for more sane laws.  

As we’ve come to know in this country, they might not care about us, but they do care about our money. Register to vote and make yourself be heard.

(Photo c/o santamariatimes.com)

Mike Sager is a writer-at-large for Esquire and a special correspondent for HIGH TIMES. For more info, please see www.MikeSager.com or www.TheSagerGroup.net

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