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Cannabis Concentrates Get a Holiday in 710 — But Are They Legal?

Despite 710, Concentrate Legality Still Murky
Photo by Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

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Cannabis Concentrates Get a Holiday in 710 — But Are They Legal?

The arrival of 710 as a special day to celebrate extracts and concentrates marks the growing embrace of “dabbing” by the cannabis community. But legal risks continue to garner grim headlines that cast the cannabis industry in a very poor light.

Cannabis aficionados coast to coast are preparing to celebrate their newly declared holiday. The tradition day of herbal indulgence, April 20 or 420, is now joined by one dedicated specifically to imbibing in extracts and concentrates — July 10, or 710.

This date was arrived at because the numerals 710 when flipped upside-down look like “OIL” spelled backward. While some extracts are ingestible, dropped under the tongue, the real enthusiasm here is clearly for the inhaled or “dabbed” variety.

However, while consumers will be heating up their rigs and powering up their vapes tomorrow, it’s worth discussing why the legal landscape for cannabis concentrates isn’t always friendly.

At Home Under the Umbrella of Legalization

Extracts are generally covered by state medical marijuana laws — although it should be noted that non-medical use or possession of concentrates in any quantity is a felony in Florida (while up to 20 grams of herbaceous cannabis is a misdemeanor). 

Finally settling a question that had consternated the Arizona medical marijuana program since it was launched nearly a decade ago, the state’s supreme court ruled in May that the program does indeed cover concentrates and extracts, to the disappointment of some recalcitrant county prosecutors who had refused to recognize this. The decision was hailed as a victory for patients who use edibles, tinctures or hashish — but it must also apply to dabs, honey oil, shatter and the like.

These products are also covered, either explicitly for by default, in states that have generally legalized adult-use cannabis. The Chicago Sun Times notes the new law in Illinois allows those over 21 years old to possess 30 grams (just over an ounce) of herbaceous cannabis, and 5 grams (less than a quarter-ounce) of concentrates such as hash oil. Additionally, Illinoisans will be allowed to hold up to 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product. 

The question of production, however, is a little stickier — and contentious due to the risks when flammable substances such as butane are involved.

Labs Regulated in California 

Under California’s 2016 Proposition 64, adults can possess 8 grams of concentrated cannabis (compared to 28.5 grams, or about one ounce, of herbaceous cannabis). Possession of more than 8 grams it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. Production of such concentrates is also legal at home — but only as long as “volatile” agents such as butane are not used. 

Before Prop 64, the law had taken various permutations concerning use and production of extracts under the state medical marijuana program. The 2008 state court decision in People v. Bergen determined that medical use was not a defense against the charge of using chemical extraction to manufacture a controlled substance. In 2015, the state legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, creating a dual state and local license for extract production. Later that year, the legislature stiffened the penalties for butane hash oil production at home but also passed Assembly Bill 2679, which allows production in professional labs, even using such “volatile” agents, under state regulation.

And the need for state regulation has certainly been amply demonstrated. The California Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal OSHA) imposed fines after a worker was burned in a propane explosion at Future2 Labs in Watsonville late last year, Workers Comp Central reports. 

And the state continues to tighten the circle on the outlaw operators. Selling non-oxidized butane in large amounts is now illegal under a state law that took effect last week — a measure specifically aimed at unauthorized butane extraction.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration continues to raid illicit concentrate producers in California. After a hash oil lab exploded in the town of El Cajon in May, local 7 San Diego reported that the DEA carried out 31 such raids in the San Diego County in 2018 and 19 just in the first five months of this year. 

Explosions in the News

A report for Politico in February noted how other states are grappling with this problem — and how explosions and fires at extraction facilities are making bad press for the cannabis industry. “In the 33 states where the drug is legal for medical or recreational use, at least 10 fires or explosions have occurred in the past five years at facilities that extract hash oil used in edible products. Nearly all resulted in serious injuries for production-line staff.”

An explosion at a hash oil facility in Royal Oak, Michigan, left a worker in critical condition in March. The incident is being investigated as a workplace accident, local WWJ-950 reported.

In 2016, a medical marijuana dispensary in Santa Fe was fined for safety violations after an explosion badly burned two workers. The Albuquerque Journal reported that the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) ordered New MexiCann Natural Medicine to pay fines totaling $13,500. 

There are ways to make cannabis concentrates that don’t involve the use of flammable solvents, such as ice-water extraction and rosin pressing. These can be done safely at home, and are explicitly suggested by the Colorado state government website.

The Overdose Hype

Then there are concerns about the actual risks inhaling smoke or vapor from extracts, brought into focus by the lurid national headlines after a Louisiana coroner declared a local woman’s death to be the first on record attributed to an overdose of cannabis — specifically, it was claimed, a highly concentrated extract. Medical experts and even federal officials as well as cannabis advocates were highly skeptical of the claim.

Nonetheless, as old-school tokers point out, the notion of an “overdose” isn’t even an issue with herbaceous marijuana. It is incumbent upon consumers to understand that extracts are far more potent than good old-fashioned dried cannabis flower, and should be treated with respect. Many make the analogy to the difference between wine and hard liquor. Cautious and responsible use by consumers is no less mandated than high safety standards in production.

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