Hash oil explosions in the news...

dab rigOK, here comes the latest media blitz in the backlash against the recent gains for cannabis legalization... The Associated Press on May 6 runs a lurid story (one of several suddenly in the news), topped by a photo of a forelorn burn victim petting his dog for comfort, entitled "Hash Oil Explosions Rise With Legalized Marijuana." The incendiary lede: "The opening months of Colorado's first-in-the-nation recreational marijuana industry have seen a rise in fiery explosions and injuries as pot users try to make the drug's intoxicating oil in crude home-based laboratories. Since Jan. 1, when sales began, the state's only certified adult burn center has treated 10 people with serious injuries they suffered while making hash oil, compared with 11 in 2013 and one in 2012." Firefighters in Colorado have responded to at least 31 hash-oil explosions so far this year, compared with 11 all of last year, according to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area—a slightly questionable claim, given that the number of explosions and number of casualties for last year are identical. A police sargeant in the Denver suburb of Thornton, which saw its first such explosion in January, is quoted: "These today are the meth labs of the '90s."

Colorado cannabis businesses are allowed to manufacture hash oil using butane, under strict rules. But Colorado allows adults 21 and over to grow up to six plants at home, and "cooks" are apparently using cast-off leaves and stems from their own plants to make hash oil in their kitchens or garages. In Washington state, where home-growing isn't allowed under the legalization initiative, officials require licensed hash-oil producers to have a costly ventilation system.

A few things need to be kept in mind here. First and foremost, the explosion of exploisions in no way constitutes an argument against legalization. If hash oil is the new methamphetamine... well, the illegality of methamphetamine hasn't done a whole lot to discourage dangerous jerry-rigged bathroom labs, has it? On the contrary, it has encouraged them, by driving up the price of the stuff. The fashion for "dabbing" with hash oil may be on the upswing along with legalization, but as we have all been told many times, correlation does not imply causation. Repealing legalization might do nothing to suppress the hash oil fad, while driving its production further underground—and thereby making it more dangerous. As Russ Belville points out in a piece on the question: "We must redouble our efforts to educate the public that just as profit-seeking bootleggers blew up the occasional still to make concentrated alcohol (whiskey) under Prohibition, so too will profit-seeking hash makers operate unsafely until the activity is regulated and prohibition profit margins reduced."

As for the dangers of consuming hash oil... They are real, but nowhere on the same level as meth. As Belville points out, common use of the term "overdose" in regard to dabbing, while technically correct, is inherently misleading, invoking the deadly OD from heroin or cocaine.

Still, the fashionability of a form of cannabis consumption that does lead to people passing out and getting wheeled away on stretchers should give us pause. Personally, I'm an old-school kinda guy. I like to smoke a joint or take a few hits off my trusty old hash pipe. I have never felt the lure of dabbling with dabbing. One of the arguments medical marijuana proponents have long made for herbaceous cannabis as opposed to pharmaceuticals like Marinol is that smoking the herb allows the user to control dosage—while Marinol and the like produce an often incapacitating overkill. So what is the point of the current craze for a form of smoking that... can produce an incapacitating overkill? 

Call me a dabbing dissident. Sometimes the old ways are the best.

Cross-post to High Times

Graphic: Russ Belville


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