Danger Next Door: Butane Honey Oil “Fires Off Like a Bomb”

Butane honey oil explosions killed more than 30 people last year in California

It is illegal to make, but legal to use under California's medical marijuana law. While smoking it may not kill you, making it can, according to an elite team of narcotics investigators.

Butane honey oil, also known as wax or hash oil, is a highly concentrated form of marijuana that has grown in popularity the last several years.

Last year alone, butane honey oil explosions killed 32 people in California, according to the Drug Endangered Children Training and Advocacy Center.

"It fires off like a bomb," said Keith Honore, a detective with an interagency narcotics task force called L.A. Impact. "These things are going off on average of one a week."

Surveillance video obtained exclusively by NBC4 shows how quickly things can turn potentially deadly. The video captures an explosion as two men are working in a marijuana hash oil lab in the city of Maywood.

Marijuana is extracted and boiled down using butane, which is odorless and highly flammable. In the Maywood incident, detectives said static electricity sparked the explosion. It is believed the men survived and are still on the run.

A similar explosion killed one person and left two others critically injured in Muscoy on Nov. 19, 2014.

Juan Zabala, whose face and fingers were burned in the explosion, said he was in the basement of the San Bernardino County home where his friends were making butane honey oil for the first time. He explained in Spanish, the explosion threw him across the room. His friend was killed.

"This one can and this extraction tube can blow up the average size room, or a house," Honore explained. "It's very, very dangerous."

There were 37 explosions in Los Angeles County in 2014. Of those, 16 exploded, according to statistics from the California Department of Justice.

Hundreds of residents at a Rosemead apartment complex were evacuated after a honey oil lab exploded in February.

Despite the dangers, demand is skyrocketing. Honey oil can sell for 10 times more than marijuana in its regular form, and detectives estimate it can be three times stronger.

While it is illegal to manufacture honey oil, it is legal to use with a medical marijuana card.

"I can take a couple puffs of wax and I'm good," said Shani, a medical marijuana cardholder who did not want to disclose her last name.

She has stage four cancer and says she prefers wax because it is more discreet.
"This is not recreation. This is not because I live in L.A. because I can. I need to be a fully functioning adult," she explained. "The pain is so excruciating at times that all you can do is sit there and cry!"

Shani gets her wax from her trusted dispensary, but detectives warn there is no way of knowing where it is made or how.

"It's a catch 22," said Honore. "It's illegal to make and it's very dangerous, but it's selling like hot cakes. I don't think people realize you've got these high school students wanting to make honey oil themselves, they're in their garage, blowing themselves up!"

Earlier this month, California lawmakers approved Senate Bill 212, authored by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia). The bill toughens penalties for individuals convicted of manufacturing BHO within 300 feet of an occupied residence or structure.

If you suspect a BHO lab is operating in your neighborhood call the LAPD Tip Line at 800-222-8477.

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