The media rarely talks about Butane Hash Oil (BHO) labs and explosions. However, first responders know all too well about this devastating side effect of marijuana legalization and expansion. Amateur chemists make BHO, also called “honey oil,” while trying to undercut the state-regulated markets. The hazards of these labs and cost to public services and medical care aren’t calculated into the costs of legalization, or measured against tax revenue.
In August of 2019, when forest fires were devastating Oregon, at least one fire which was sparked by a BHO explosion. Michael Cashmareck, a man from Pennsylvania, was arrested for arson.
In April 2014, four BHO explosions occurred in Colorado within one week. In one case, responders rescued an infant and four-year-old from the second floor, after a father made BHO in a townhouse kitchen.
BHO explosions can occur in homes, apartments, motels, garages, cars and trailer parks. Laws against running unlicensed labs have become much tougher since 2014. Yet the fires associated with BHO extraction still occur regularly, about 2/3 of them in California.
An infant nearly died at a BHO explosion at a California trailer park in 2021. In Anaheim, two firefighters were seriously injured in 2022.
Dozens of people die
At least 58 people died from burns sustained in California BHO fires between 2011 and 2021.
By April, 2015, the California Alliance of Drug-Endangered Children had tracked 41 marijuana lab deaths in that state between 2011 and April, 2015. From May 2015 and 2019, in California, 15 more people died as a result of BHO labs or explosions. Two men died 2021, from separate BHO incidents on September 28 and October 27. On November 9, 2016, the day after California’s historic vote to legalize pot, three men making BHO suffered burns on 60 to 90 percent of their bodies. One of them eventually died.
Hundreds of People Displaced from Apartment Buildings
In 2017, a BHO explosion in a north Portland neighborhood killed two men, destroyed a man’s home and the house next door.
When the explosions occur in apartment buildings, many more people are displaced. The worst of the BHO fires have left hundreds of people homeless. Among them:
Rancho Cordova, CA — January 22, 2014. Two men started a BHO fire in one apartment, and 146 people from 50 units were displaced.
In Battle Creek, MI—July 22, 2018, a massive fire displaced about 80 people in a four-story apartment building
Walnut Creek, CA — October 31, 2014, Dozens of people were displaced as the fire ripped through six different buildings.
Redding, CA — 2014 — A fire in 2014 left multiple families homeless
Bellevue, WA — November 5, 2013 — The fire lasted 7 hours and took 100 firefighters and police to put it out. One woman died. All 10 apartments were destroyed, causing $1.5 million in property damage and $500,000 worth of belongings. Police had investigated 2 men living 3 weeks earlier, but they showed their medical marijuana cards and said they did not make hash oil.
In Oxnard, California, William Smith died and his accomplice was seriously injured from a BHO explosion on October 27, 2021.
To the 58 California deaths mentioned above, we can add:
1 two-month-old baby who slept adjacent to a room in Colorado where BHO was made.
The 2 men killed in a neighborhood of north Portland, in 2017.
2 in Washington, including Nan Campbell who died as a result of the massive Bellevue explosion in November 2013. An elderly man in Spokane whose respiratory problems resulted after a neighbor made BHO died after two months in the hospital.
1 grandmother in Minnesota whose grandson used her home to make BHO
1 teen who died in the basement of a Michigan home
2 in New York, including Michael Fahy. Fahy was the fire captain who perished while putting out the fire in a marijuana grow lab in the Bronx. Another death in New York was 19-year-old Anthony Gambale from Brooklyn. He rallied to survive, but eventually died.
1 more firefighter in New York, Thomas Corcoran, died at a 2016 fire in a Bronx grow house, but it’s not clear of BHO was involved.
1 man in Gresham, Oregon, who died June 14, 2013, six weeks after the explosion
1 man in Hawaii, January, 2014
Even though children comprise only 4 of the 70 deaths (true number may be 100+), we know that kids are frequently put at risk from irresponsible adults making BHO. In late 2022, a 23-year-old endangered two younger sisters by making BHO in the garage of a Santa Rosa home. In Johnson City, CA, 2021, a four-month-old infant was put in the line of danger, although it was the parents who sustained serious injuries.
Treating burns from BHO explosions
One of the men critically injured in a Placer County explosion in 2019 had to be airlifted to the University of California Burn Institute in Davis.
UC Davis’ Dr. David Greenhalgh gained an expertise in the treatment of burns from BHO labs. He’s been interviewed a number of times.
Why make BHO when cannabis is legal?
Many places cracked down on the sale of butane, and propane gas may be used instead. Law enforcement fears that propane from drug labs may be responsible for fires used in Denver homeless camps over the last few years
BHO creates the THC extractions similar to the wax, shatter, dabs and vapes people can buy at state-regulated “dispensaries.” Despite felony charges against amateurs making BHO, people still opt to make it. One reason is that these THC extracts are because highly potent and quickly addict those who need a fix. Secondly, black market sellers can make money and greatly undercut the costs of state-regulated extracts. Because California never regulated marijuana effectively before full legalization, legalization provided the impetus for black markets to grow stronger.
It is tragic when anyone dies, even if they choose to do something very dangerous and risky. However, Butane Hash Oil labs greatly expand the need for fire and police emergency responders, as well as medical interventions. Public services are put to the ultimate test and everyone ends up paying more in taxes as needs increase.