Unintended Consequences: Legalizing Marijuana in Colorado Has Led to More Home Explosions

hash-lab-explosionAn unintended consequence to legalizing marijuana in Colorado has led to a drastic increase in the numbers of homes exploding or catching on fire.

What’s causing this to happen is that people are using highly flammable chemicals inside of their homes to extract hash oil from marijuana – causing some to set themselves on fire or even blow up their homes.

According to The New York Times

The explosions occur as people pump butane fuel through a tube packed with raw marijuana plants to draw out the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, producing a golden, highly potent concentrate that people sometimes call honey oil, earwax or shatter. The process can fill a room with volatile butane vapors that can be ignited by an errant spark or flame.

“They get enough vapors inside the building and it goes off, and it’ll bulge out the walls,” said Chuck Mathis, the fire marshal in Grand Junction.

Since marijuana legalization went into effect last year, the number of these instances rose from 12 to 32. It’s also put lawmakers in Colorado in an interesting position on how to deal with this phenomenon.

“This is uncharted territory,” said State Representative Mike Foote. “These things come up for the first time, and no one’s dealt with them before.”

And he’s right. This is clearly a gray area that definitely needs to be discussed. Because while it’s clear that the vast majority of people using marijuana are doing so responsiblity and legally, there’s something to be said about people who might not have any idea what they’re doing messing with extremely flammable substances to extract hash oil from the marijuana they’ve purchased.

Personally, I don’t think this is all that complicated. If most people are extracting the oil safely then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be legal to do so. However, simply make it a crime if an “accident” occurs and you happen to blow up your house, apartment or set someone on fire. If the process can be done safely, but someone sets off an explosion, clearly they were being negligent with the process. I don’t view this as an issue with marijuana but an issue with those who are being irresponsible with it. That can be said for anything: if someone isn’t responsible in life (driving, drinking, operating heavy machinery) and some kind of damage or injury is a result of their negligence, they have to face the consequences for their actions.

Offer educational resources in the state to teach people how to perform the process safely. As with most things in life, education can make a world of difference.

In my opinion, that’s how you handle this. If someone wants to extract the oil, then they take the risk of legal action (though no risk of time in jail unless there’s serious injury or death) if they aren’t doing so responsibly, leading to an explosion or some other kind of incident. In the situations of rented homes and apartments, the apartment complexes or landlords need to put in their lease that tenants are not allowed to perform this process on site. You already see this in many places with restrictions on what kinds of barbecue grills you can use. Clearing this up in a lease is a quick and simple step that all rental properties should take going forward.

And before some anti-marijuana advocate goes off on some kind of a tangent about this being why marijuana shouldn’t be legal, let’s take a look at the report card for Colorado since the substance became legal for public purchase last year:

According to the state’s department of revenue, the first ten months of legal marijuana sales have resulted in nearly $40 million in tax revenue. The city of Denver saw a decrease in violent crime rates in the first 11 months of 2014, following a similar trend in 2013. Statewide traffic fatalities continue to decline, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Upwards of $8 million has been allocated to fund youth education and drug prevention efforts. And the state is enjoying economic growth and the lowest unemployment rate in years.

But like with all new things, there are going to be situations that must be dealt with as issues arise that aren’t clearly defined. And this is one of them. If marijuana was still illegal, a house blowing up because someone was extracting hash oil from the plant would be simple to deal with. But since it’s no longer illegal in Colorado, that’s added a new wrinkle into dealing with these home explosions. It’s no longer about someone being in possession of an illegal substance (like meth, coke, crack or heroin), it’s about people doing something with a legal substance that’s led to injury and property damage which falls into a legal gray area that lawmakers are going to have to figure out how to deal with.

I just hope when it’s all settled, common sense ultimately prevails.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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