One of the confounding problems with legalizing marijuana is that we must do it in an incremental fashion. Oh, sure, it’s theoretically possible for the attorney general or president to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act or for Congress to do the same through legislation. But even then, there would remain a majority of states that still prohibit cannabis within their laws.
When we legalize incrementally, the prohibition that remains exerts its influence over the newly-regulated marijuana market. That can then lead to legalization taking the hit for bad headlines that are actually the fault of prohibition.
Case in point: the Oregonian recently published a piece entitled, “Big profits, extra pot fuel illegal butane hash oil labs.” It’s a story borne of Portland’s first recorded deaths from unlicensed processing of cannabis into oil, resulting from an explosion that blew a North Portland home to smithereens.
“Though recreational marijuana sales have been legal in Oregon since 2015,” writes cannabis beat reporter Noelle Crombie, “illicit labs… have proliferated as the marijuana supply has increased in the era of legalization.”
That sure makes it sound like the problem of exploding homes is going to get worse because of legalization, doesn’t it?
Mark my words, stories like these will be used in the future as other states consider legalization. Most of the remaining states will have to legalize through legislation. You can bet those legislators who read these exploding home stories will use them to support bans on home cannabis cultivation.
When you read further, though, you come to recognize that the problem of exploding homes isn’t because we’ve legalized marijuana a little. It’s because we haven’t legalized marijuana enough!
“Red tape has led to a short supply of hash oil in regulated stores,” writes Crombie. The state “has so far licensed 119 marijuana processors to make cannabis oils.”
Besides the thousands of dollars it costs for consulting, business plans and state licensing, part of the red tape includes ensuring that the licensed processors are using a closed-loop extraction system, costing thousands of dollars to produce cannabis oil. They must compete with unlicensed processors who can buy a $12 can of butane, a $20 big glass tube and a 50-cent pie tin to produce an inferior, but certainly salable cannabis oil.
“[H]ash oil made by illegal processors sells for $5 to $10 a gram,” Crombie explains, “compared to $30 to $50 at a licensed shop.”
That’s just within Oregon.
Take that $5 or $10 gram of BHO to New York, and you can get $100 for it. Prohibition, whether it is the hard prohibition of criminal bans in New York or the soft prohibition of over-regulation in Oregon, leads to scarcity, which leads to the enormous profits for which some will risk an explosion.
The problem of the exploding homes is an artifact of prohibition, though—not a development of legalization.
So, shockingly, Oregon is going to try more prohibition to solve the problem.
Crombie writes that “Portland Fire & Rescue officials say they plan to lobby lawmakers to impose limits on the sale of butane.” This is the same reaction Oregon had to the crisis of methamphetamine addiction; reduce the ability of people to buy pseudoephedrine, the important precursor ingredient in making meth. Since 2006 in this state, you must have a prescription to get Sudafed.
Sure enough, as soon as Oregon limited pseudoephedrine sales, nobody in Oregon ever used meth again, and no meth labs ever blow up here. Oh, wait, sorry, we still have quite the meth problem, and the prescription rules just forced labs to evolve a new “shake-and-bake” method that’s even more volatile, portable and dangerous.
If we limit sales of butane, Amazon.com will just see a massive increase in sales of butane. Ban the internet sales of butane to Oregon, and you’ll see a new business sprout up in Oregon border towns: the butane supermarket.
Another prohibitionist approach the state took was to increase the penalties for unlicensed extraction.
“Oregon lawmakers this year took steps to crack down on illegal hash oil labs by making explosions tied to butane hash oil operations a felony,” Crombie writes.
Well, it seems that felony didn’t stop those North Portland men. Funny how the threat of a felony isn’t dissuading people who are risking blowing up their homes and suffering excruciating third-degree burns in search of tenfold-profits, huh?
The only way to reduce the hash oil explosions is more legalization leading to more access to BHO. License more processors to get the price down in the Oregon shops. Allow those processors to convert the excess from personal grows into BHO for individuals (currently, processors can only extract from licensed growers and sell to licensed shops).
Finally, we have to legalize everywhere else in the world to destroy the prohibition price tariff.
It’s that massive profit that fuels everything bad about marijuana commerce, including the home butane explosions. After all, when’s the last time you read a headline about some bootleggers dying in a moonshine still explosion?