7 things you should know about marijuana labs

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While this illegal BHO lab did not explode, with the amount of butane found, it easily could have. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) While this illegal BHO lab did not explode, with the amount of butane found, it easily could have. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Kris Pickel joined Detective Matt Shay on an early morning surveillance operation. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Kris Pickel joined Detective Matt Shay on an early morning surveillance operation. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Butane honey oil (BHO) looks innocuous enough, but it is a potent narcotic extracted from the marijuana plant, and making it is extremely dangerous, even deadly. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Butane honey oil (BHO) looks innocuous enough, but it is a potent narcotic extracted from the marijuana plant, and making it is extremely dangerous, even deadly. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Simple household items can be used to make BHO on a small scale. (Source: Kris Pickel, CBS 5 News) Simple household items can be used to make BHO on a small scale. (Source: Kris Pickel, CBS 5 News)
While many BHO labs produce just ounces of BHO, the lab busted last week was set up to produce pounds of it. It's one of the most sophisticated labs HIDTA has seen to date. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) While many BHO labs produce just ounces of BHO, the lab busted last week was set up to produce pounds of it. It's one of the most sophisticated labs HIDTA has seen to date. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)

PHOENIX (CBS 5 NEWS) - A  new type of drug lab is leading to fires and explosions in neighborhoods across the country and here in the Valley.

The illegal manufacture of BHO (butane honey oil) made from marijuana is surging. It’s happening in all types of neighborhoods across the Valley.  

MAP: Where labs have been found in Valley since 2013

CBS 5 anchor Kris Pickel and 5 Investigates videographers Edward Ayala and Gilbert Zermeno were given unprecedented access to the Maricopa County Sheriff Office’s HIDTA Task Force.

HIDTA stands for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The special eight-man task force is seeing  a surge in drug labs.

Detective Matt Shay and Sgt. Micah Kaskavage with HIDTA allowed our team to accompany them on overnight surveillance operations, raids on homes and warehouses, undercover drug buys and a BHO lab demonstration.

1. What is BHO? 

Butane honey oil is a potent narcotic extracted from the marijuana plant. When ingested through smoking or eating, users experience a longer lasting, more intense high, often without the distinctive and pervasive smell of weed.

BHO can be purchased legally from licensed dispensaries. It's not new, but the surge in illegal manufacturing, oftentimes in homes, is creating an increasing danger to neighborhoods.

2. How do BHO labs work?

BHO labs are used to strip the narcotic component of marijuana, the THC, off the plant. BHO labs are typically homemade with common items and can vary in construction. 

A tube, often PVC, glass or metal, is filled with marijuana leaves.

A filter, which can be as simple as a coffee filter, is placed on one end. A cap with a hole is placed on the other. The hole fits the tip of a butane can. 

Once inserted, the butane rinses the marijuana leaves, stripping off the THC. A mixture of butane and THC drips through the filter.

When liquid butane comes into contact with the air, it turns into a gas, leaving behind a high concentration of THC.

DIGITAL EXTRA: Detective Matt Shay demonstrates set up of BHO lab found in a home

3. The danger of BHO labs

Venting butane is an extremely volatile undertaking.

The highly flammable gas is heavier than air and can pool during the venting process. If the gas comes into contact with any source of ignition, which can be as simple as static electricity, the fumes can ignite resulting in an explosion.

Investigators often find additional butane canisters and other chemicals in homes with labs. Those can lead to additional explosions.  

4. Prop. 205 would lessen the penalty for BHO labs

The proposed law to legalize recreational marijuana would reduce the penalty for BHO labs.

Currently,  illegal chemical extraction done without a license is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 12 years in prison. The proposed law drops the crime to a Class 6 felony, for which the punishment is often negotiated down to a fine.

Detectives fear dropping the penalty from prison time to a fine would lead to an increase in BHO labs in neighborhoods.

FAQ: Recreational marijuana: Question and answer guide to Prop. 205

5. How Colorado dealt with the issue of BHO labs

In 2015, Colorado increased the penalty for illegally making marijuana hash oil with hazardous materials to a Class 2 felony after experiencing an increase in explosions linked to the production. A Class 2 felony can carry a prison sentence of up tp 12 years.

6. Illegal BHO labs are becoming more common

HIDTA first encountered BHO labs after the legalization of medical marijuana. The task force, which located two labs in 2013, now regularly finds labs with large illegal marijuana operations, mostly in homes, across the Valley. They're averaging a couple every month. As of the end of September, HIDTA had found 19 BHO labs. That's just HIDTA, not other law-enforcement agencies' labs throughout the state.

RELATED: Pot grow operation busted by MCSO was worth $9M (Oct. 3, 2016)

APP USERS: Click/tap here for infographic

7. How illegal marijuana growers try to use a loophole under in the Medical Marijuana Act

Under Arizona's medical marijuana law, qualifying patients are allowed to grow 12 marijuana plants for personal use, but only if they live 25 miles away from the nearest dispensary.

A patient can also designate a caregiver to grow plants. The caregiver can grow up to 12 plants per person for up to five patients for a total of 60 plants. If the caregiver also has a medical marijuana card, that can be 72 plants, allowing the caregiver to grow up to 72 pounds of pot every 90 days. Caregivers do not have the same restriction of living 25 miles away from a dispensary.

During investigations, detectives say they often find patients have lied on their medical marijuana card applications; many give false home addresses.

Operators of illegal large marijuana grow operations often claim they are caregivers, but investigations reveal the patients for whom they are growing do not meet the requirement of living 25 miles away from dispensaries.    

If you see something, say something!

MCSO Drug Tip Line -- 602-262-3784 (Click or tap phone number to call from this story on your mobile device.)

Submit a tip to MCSO online: azpolicetips.com/mcso

Copyright 2016 KPHO (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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