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New high in wax: Marijuana concentrate receives increased attention from law enforcement

ST. PAUL -- Law enforcement officials from across Minnesota warned Wednesday about the rise of a new form of marijuana that can be six times more potent than the typical leaf form of the drug.

ST. PAUL - Law enforcement officials from across Minnesota warned Wednesday about the rise of a new form of marijuana that can be six times more potent than the typical leaf form of the drug.

Called marijuana wax, the manufacture of the drug has been blamed for the death of a St. Cloud area woman and dangerous psychosomatic trips of two Duluth teenagers.
Wax is a street name for this type of marijuana concentrate, and is also known as butane hash oil, honey oil, budder, dabs and 710.

It has a similar consistency as butter or honey.
The wax itself is dangerous, officials say, but the manufacture of the product presents a grave safety risk to the public.
“These labs are similar to methamphetamine labs, in that the chemical used is extremely flammable and explosive,” said Brian Marquart, Department of Public Safety statewide gang and drug coordinator for the Office of Justice Programs. “If manufactured indoors or enclosed spaces, there is a high risk of injury or death.”
The chemical is butane, the same kind that can be bought at convenience stores to refill pocket lighters. The production is low-tech but highly dangerous, Marquart said.
“All that’s needed for them to make these concentrates is some kind of cylinder, whether it’s glass, metal or PVC - not very large - and butane,” he said.
The marijuana is packed into the cylinder, then the butane is added. A small tube is attached and the final product drips out the bottom. Producers then heat the product to remove additional butane, which Marquart said can be a volatile process.
“These labs are similar to methamphetamine labs in that the chemical used is extremely flammable and explosive,” he said. “If manufactured indoors or in enclosed spaces, there is a high risk of injury or death. ... The butane is heavier than air. It sinks, and if it finds any type of ignition, it starts a flash fire.”
The dangers of production were apparent in a November house fire in St. Cloud. Sally Douglas, 85, died in a fire attributed to the production of marijuana wax.
The Stearns County attorney’s office filed Wednesday two counts each of third-degree murder against Justin Edward Pick, 19, and Dustin Ross Zablocki, 18.
“This is the first case of its kind that I’ve seen in my 20-year law enforcement career,” St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said. “There are so many dangers that surround the manufacturing of hash oil, and this tragedy is another example. It destroys lives.”
“We hope these charges and the prosecution of these men will bring some relief to this family.”
Marquart said the drug is so new to the state that the DPS does not have statistics on how many arrests have been made involving wax, nor do they know any long-term effects from using it.
Sirens in silence
The DPS produced a video interview with the mother of one of the Duluth teens who went through a wax overdose a few weeks ago. The mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, said her son experienced an extreme trip.
“He was seeing the world as a cartoon, “ she said. “He was hearing sirens and heard people yelling, but it was completely silent.
“He kept holding his throat and saying he couldn’t breathe. I was scared not knowing if he was able to breathe or if he was going to die.”
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, wax can range from 30 percent to more than 90 percent tetrahydrocannabinol content, which is the active compound that gets users high. Typical leaf marijuana, meanwhile, averages 14 percent THC content.
“It seems that the drug culture today wants to find the ultimate high, and the information that we have says it does provide that high,” Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said.
Ramsay said he had heard about wax about two years ago from the West Coast, but it has only started turning up in the Duluth area about four months ago. He asked the students in a class he teaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth if they knew about it.
“I asked the the class of 40 how many of them were aware of this wax substance, and the majority of them seemed to know about it,” he said. “I don’t believe … parents with teenagers or parents with young adult children know about this.”
Anderson said his officers will now be on the lookout for wax in the wake of the house fire.
“It is an awful thing, but a reminder that illicit drug use is everywhere,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how big or small your city is. We will be a lot more diligent going forward.”

Robb Jeffries (he/him) is the Night Editor for InForum.com and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Robb can be reached at rjeffries@forumcomm.com.
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