Death in a Cannabis Lab: Italian Prosecutors Investigate Explosion

A lab which was set up to create “Cannabis Lite” products blew up, killing two people and injuring two others. Now prosecutors in Italy are deliberating whether to charge five people with murder or manslaughter.

Prosecutors in Perugia, Italy are now trying to decide how to charge both owners and managers in a horrific industrial accident that killed two people and seriously injured two others. The incident occurred when a “laboratory,” which was set up to create “Cannabis Lite” from high THC cannabis, exploded.

Beyond the strange specifics, this kind of incident is certainly an anomaly in Europe—and not just because of the existence of cannabinoids in this process, but also what the manufacturers were trying to do to it. Not to mention how.

If this case sounds like Colorado, circa 2014, you would be right. In the first summer of state legalization, the Denver Department of Environmental Health ordered a recall from a manufacturer who had made hash in their washing machine to be sold commercially and “legally.” Thankfully, nobody died, and the owners displayed an ignorance that what they were doing was against public health guidelines.

Beyond this incident however, the danger of BHO extractions are an increasing menace in U.S. states where recreational cannabis is now legal. Inexperienced operators are using butane to make hash oil—and horrific accidents and explosions are on the rise.

This case in Italy seems to be a macabre copycat spinoff. What makes this even stranger is the supposed intent of the “manufacturer.”

Criminal Liability and Intent in Italy

In this case, prosecutors are trying to determine how to charge both the managers and owners of the business. It appears that they face, at minimum, charges of gross negligence for failing to warn and train employees about the dangers of what they were doing.

They could end up being charged with either manslaughter or murder.

Here is why. Ultrasonic “washing machines” had been set up to bathe cannabis in pentane to lower the level of THC in the same and thus enable the company to sell the products as “Cannabis Lite.” Further, as described by prosecutors, the method had been both “invented” by one of the partners in the business and further was “devoid of any technical and scientific knowledge and used outside of any authorization.”

Ultrasonic washing machines are commercially available even online. They are mostly used in combination with either water or a non-flammable solvent, to clean items including jewellery, medical instruments, watches, and electronics. They can also be used to clean clothes by removing contaminants and killing bacteria.

This is hardly a process that should be utilized for cannabis destined for human consumption.

Beyond this, their tanks should never be filled with any liquid that is flammable, because it will vaporize causing explosions, fire, or, at minimum, release hazardous gases into the workspace.

Pentane, the solvent used in this case, is a chemical commonly used in the production of polystyrene foam. It is also highly flammable.

For this reason, according to the prosecutor’s office, beyond the danger posed by the “innovation,” the processing was objectively dangerous.

Further, the pentane was not being stored in accordance with regulations, nor was any machinery installed in the lab that could have ameliorated the risks involved with using the solvent for processing.

The Many Odd Circumstances

There are several bizarre aspects to this story—starting with this one: Who would take high THC cannabis and subject it to a chemical solvent and a “cleaning” machine clearly not designed for plants that will be ingested by humans? Further, who would do this to high THC cannabis when there is plenty of hemp available in the country?

Beyond these facts, it is clear that this was not an “invention” as much as an accident waiting to happen.

This tragic incident in Italy is also a warning shot across the bow to others who might be tempted to engage in similar acts of so-called innovation in the future. That said, with the advent of multi-stage recreational reform, it is almost certain that there will be more of them until the entire supply chain for cannabis flowers and the manufacturing processes used to create extracts are fully legitimized and properly overseen.

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