Former Judge: Homes Are Blowing Up from 'Blasting' Marijuana, a Risky Business

January 02, 2017, 11:47 PM

The writer served as a 52nd District Court judge in Novi and assistant state attorney general.  He's chief financial officer of the Justice Speakers Institute and a Deadline Detroit contributor.

By Brian MacKenzie

Smoking Butane Hash Oil (From Vice video).

Last Sept. 25, the people living on Butternut Drive woke to the sound of a detonation reverberating in the darkness.  The home at 52600 Butternut was on fire.  The 2010 census placed Shelby Township in Macomb County as one of the most affluent communities in the state of Michigan.  It is not the type of place one would expect to find an illegal drug lab. So shock of the explosion was not the only surprise awaiting the neighborhood.

According to an informed source, the explosion was the result of an illegal manufacturing process that converts marijuana plants into Butane Hash Oil (BHO). In order to manufacture BHO, marijuana plants are placed into a tube and then heated with  butane. This isolates THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, creating something that  looks like ear wax. 

This process is called blasting and the people who manufacture BHOs are called blasters. Richard Corneil was allegedly blasting that night on Butternut Drive.

Blasting is very profitable.  A pound of trim, the least usable part of the marijuana plant, yields about 45 grams of BHO which averages between 70 to  90% percent pure THC. It is then sold under a number of different names; dabs, budder, shatter, ear wax or honey oil.  The average price for marijuana buds range between $15 and $20 per gram, whereas BHO averages a cost between $70 and $100 a gram.

Considering that a gram of gold had a commodities market price of $37.21 on Dec. 29, BHO is worth almost three times more than gold.

The marijuana market reaction was quick: "We have been seeing an emergence of dabs over the last three years," said John Stogner, an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "It is really exploding onto the drug-use scene.”

Risky Business

Blasting gets it name  because, like handling dynamite, it is very dangerous.  Butane gas can fill a room with its vapors and the smallest spark can cause an explosion.  That is what happened on Butternut Drive. 

This was not an isolated incident. One study found 94 percent of BHO explosions occurred in residential settings.  In 2014, the first year, that possession of recreational marijuana was legal in Colorado, there were 32 BHO house explosions, a167 percent increase from the prior year.  The two of the other states that has legalized recreational marijuana, Washington, and Oregon have also reported of an increase in BHO explosions.

There are no statistics for BHO explosions in Michigan, but a set of Google searches suggests that there has been about a dozen confirmed blasts in 2016.  In January, in Grand Rapids, two men, were injured -- one critically -- while they were blasting BHO, and in the City of Litchfield, two men blew up an apartment.  In February, in Saginaw, three men were critically injured in a BHO explosion.

In March, in Brandon Township, a twenty-year-old man was rushed to the hospital suffering burns after a BHO explosion in his mobile home.  In July, in Warren, in two separate incidents,a house and then a pole barn grow house burned. In September, in Niles Township a house burned to the ground. In October in Summit Township, firefighters from three communities fought a house fire that started in medical marijuana card holder’s basement and in Battle Creek, firefighters found a marijuana grow house on fire.In the city of Wayne, a man was critically injured when his garage exploded. This December, in Muskegon Township, a BHO explosion in the kitchen blew the front windows of a house.

Legal Now Under State Law

This list does not count the unexplained explosions that happened in two marijuana grow houses at the former KI Sawyer Air Force base in the Upper Peninsula, and in Taylor last month.  Nor does it include marijuana-related fires in the city of Detroit. 

Until December, possession and manufacture of BHOs were illegal in Michigan.  However, the Legislature amended the medical marijuana law so it i's now iegal to make BHOs in Michigan if you have a medical marijuana card. 

Other than a vague requirement that the manufacture not be “reckless,” there are no real restrictions.   The law also creates a regulatory framework that can limit the amount of THC in a resin, but it didn't set guidelines.

Even if a good regulatory scheme can be developed  in a timely manner, the problem of enforcement will be immense.   How will a police officer be able to tell the difference  between resin that contains 25 percent THC  and one that contains 90 percent?

Given the profit margins for BHOs, the legislature’s allowance of BHO manufacturing  and the problems in enforcing the new law, the number homes  that are blasted in 2017 are very likely to increase. 

As for Richard Corneil, he is currently facing charges of manufacturing marijuana in Macomb County Circuit Court.

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