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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pot Houses Exploding in Colorado

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.

Collateral Damage.  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.

The Stats.  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.

Legal Consequences.  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.

Going Forward.  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.

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