Just over a year ago, Colorado began a grand experiment with the legalization of marijuana. Unlike Washington state, which has taken the state-backed dispensary route to production, the Colorado model favors the individual pot farmer; think craft beers and spirits, and apply the concept to marijuana.
The past year has showed Coloradoans, however, that the process has become more complicated -and dangerous- in order to produce a much more potent strain of the crop. One consequence of the production process: explosions.
Marijuana at its Best
. These days, the cutting-edge in marijuana production is a concentrated, golden honey-like substance known as: wax, hash oil, or shatter. To produce this substance, mature marijuana leaves are infused with butane under pressure. When the butane is removed, the spent plant matter yields a potent residue containing a high concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in the marijuana leaf.
. Here's a problem: when folks rush through the production of their pot wax, and do not take proper care or precaution -because they are anxious to get their product onto the street and make some money- bad things can happen. For example, the butane used in the production causes combustible fumes to build-up in any enclosed, poorly ventilated structure. If the venue used in the production process is, say, an ordinary residence, then errant sparks can happen when a furnace kicks on, or a gas stove burner is lit. Under such circumstances, a spark can lead to an explosion when the butane fumes ignite.
. According to a recent article in the NYT, thousands of people are producing marijuana wax with butane all across Colorado. In 2013, a dozen pot-production-related house explosions occurred; last year the number rose to 32 according to the pro-law enforcement group Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
. What is a county prosecutor or judge to do with an individual that blows-up a house in the production of marijuana wax? Well, so far such individuals do not just get a pass. County prosecutors are charging individuals with arson. This gives rise to some interesting criminal defense lawyering, and has led to disparate results.
In one case currently pending against a 22-year old, the county judge would not dismiss the arson charges against him on the grounds of Colorado's new pot law; the defendant is facing prison time if convicted. In another case, a 77-year old man pled guilty to arson and was sentenced to probation.
. As Colorado boldly sets the pace for marijuana legalization, we see the classic disconnect between the law and the realities of human activity. Nowadays, the classic grow-your-own style of marijuana production, where plants are lovingly nurtured, cultivated and smoked in cigarettes or pipes, is rapidly giving way to a more dangerous intensive process aided by explosive materials.
If the explosion trend continues, we here at the Law Blogger
look for two things to occur: first, production will shift to a more state-run or subsidized dispensary model; and second, some pot growing conduct will be regulated or criminalized either by the federal government, or via state laws and regulations.
Labels: arson, Colorado, marijuana, marijuana legalization, marijuana wax