Legalizing marijuana in Minnesota: Explosive risks tied to home THC extraction labs
ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - It comes in edibles, candy, and other concentrated forms – but extracting cannabis oil under the wrong conditions can be disastrous.
As part of the DFL-backed effort to legalize marijuana in Minnesota, the current proposal would not only allow you to grow your own plants, but you’d also be allowed to set up your own home lab to extract cannabis oil, but only using certain limited methods.
However, history has proven that extracting cannabis oil using home set-ups have had explosive consequences.
The process to extract THC from cannabis can be dangerous. (FOX 9)
In August 2022, Crystal Police responded to a home on Perry Avenue after reports of an explosion. Evidence photos obtained by the FOX 9 Investigators show the aftermath with the front door blown off, and the walls of the home bending from the sheer force of the explosion.
The homeowner had significant burns to his arms and head and was hospitalized, according to court records.
Crystal Police Deputy Chief Brian Hubbard said his officers executed a search warrant on the house to figure out what happened.
"The cause was from him cooking marijuana or creating marijuana oil," Deputy Chief Hubbard said.
One evidence photo appears to show a blue butane canister inside the home – which can be used to extract THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Authorities also seized 374 grams of marijuana from the property. The homeowner is facing a possession charge.
"Our investigation would lead us to believe that this was not part of a bigger operation, that this was an individual who was doing this in his own home for his own personal use," said Deputy Chief Hubbard.
Matt Little shows the FOX 9 Investigators the large-scale mechanical extraction unit. (FOX 9)
An industrial approach
Inside a warehouse in Waseca, Minnesota, the team from Midwest Extraction Services conducts commercial-level extraction for a variety of cannabis products.
Managing Partner Matt Little showed the FOX 9 Investigators the large-scale mechanical extraction unit, which is a complex system that combines hundreds of pounds of cannabis with hundreds of gallons of cryo ethanol to cool the cannabis to subzero temperatures in order to extract the crude oil.
The oils can be processed in a variety of ways. For example, on one recent day, Little’s team manufactured a batch of hemp-derived THC blue raspberry gummies.
"At the end of the day, we're dealing with some chemicals that are very volatile, very explosive," Little said.
As lawmakers consider legalizing adult-use marijuana, Little is concerned about untrained people trying to pull off what’s performed in his extraction lab inside their own home.
"You’re going to have people that are reading stuff on the internet and trying it, and next thing you know they do it once, small scale in their kitchen… and now they try to scale up and start producing and it becomes unsafe real fast," Little said. "You have essentially butane or propane being released in the air and a massive amount of pressure. Next thing you know, one spark and you just blew up your house."
At the capitol & beyond
Efforts to legalize marijuana are pressing forward at the Minnesota State Capitol.
The current bill would allow some forms of home extraction to exist but there are certain limitations. The proposed measure bans the use of "volatile solvents" in home labs. However, as the bill currently stands, there is no specific penalty attached.
To be blunt, there is no single answer.
States that have already legalized marijuana have adopted a variety of stances on home extraction labs. Virginia bans home manufacturing of marijuana concentrates. Colorado makes it a felony to perform home extraction if using an "inherently hazardous substance."
"Personally, I believe they should just not allow it," Little said. "You have some rights inside your own home, but you don’t have the right to endanger your next-door neighbor."
Across the country, even state-approved and regulated extraction labs are not immune to the extreme risks involved.
In New Mexico, one medical marijuana lab experienced a butane explosion in 2015 where two workers were injured, which was captured on surveillance video. The same lab experienced a second explosion just five years later.
In California, an explosion at a hash oil manufacturer crumbled one building and injured nearly a dozen firefighters in the process.
Little hopes Minnesota’s lawmakers take notice when crafting legislation on the matter.
"It’s of utmost importance that everybody in this industry is doing the best job they can so we don’t look like a bunch of amateurs running businesses," Little said.
The pending legislation to legalize marijuana has a long way to go before becoming law as it winds its way through committee hearings in both chambers of the Legislature.