Potentially explosive RI hash oil operations busted

Butane canisters, extraction tubes filled with pot and a cooking device are among the haul in two recent, unrelated BHO raids.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Three addresses in two Rhode Island communities were raided within days to break up suspected butane hash oil operations, a matter of weeks after the remnants of what investigators called a BHO lab were discovered in the ashes of a Providence fire.

No one is linking these cases, which surfaced six months after a raid in Burrillville, which may have been the first BHO manufacturing bust in the state. But the sudden appearance of the marijuana extract in a number of investigations in three parts of the state may point to the emergence of a trend in Rhode Island that’s already hit other parts of the country.

In the weeks before the Portsmouth police department’s Friday raid of a drug lab operating out of 112 Highland Avenue and 87 Tallman Avenue, Detective Michael Arnold sought clarification on how to charge the two suspects, because the existing law does not specifically mention BHO.

“We have also periodically cited people for possession [of small amounts of BHO] on traffic stops,” Arnold said. “We were told to use the state’s marijuana possession and manufacturing law.”

At this point, no one suspects the Portsmouth BHO operation is connected to a BHO lab in Central Falls that was busted by Rhode Island State police last Wednesday in a building at 174 Cross Street. Licensed medical marijuana provider Andrew Giangreco, 30, of Smithfield, was arrested in the Central Falls case. Timothy Banville and Tyler Ottilage, a pair of Portsmouth 29-year-olds, were arrested in the Portsmouth case.

In September,  Kayla Richard, 19, of Burrillville, was arrested by Burrillville police for allegedly making the potent marijuana extract, also known as shatter, in a home on Victory Highway.

In all three busts, police confiscated similar items: butane gas canisters, marijuana-stuffed glass extraction tubes and cooking devices ranging from what state police called crock pots to what appeared to be a pressure cooker in Portsmouth.

The unknown in this potential trend is the five-alarm fire that destroyed an 86,000 square-foot building on Kinsley Avenue in Providence. The state fire marshal confirmed butane tanks, extraction tubes and burned marijuana were found in the ashes of the fire, two weeks after the blaze darkened the Providence sky. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said today the fire remains under investigation and nailing down the cause could be weeks away.

During the news conference for the Burrillville bust, police Sgt. Guy Riendeau offered a quick demonstration of how THC-rich BHO is pulled from marijuana leaves.

Photos: Five-Alarm Fire Destroys Providence Mill
Photos: Five-Alarm Fire Destroys Providence Mill

“What they do is they hold it over a glass pan,” Riendeau explained while aiming a butane canister at a glass extraction tube that was stuffed with pot. “And they sift butane through it. So, the butane liquifies the [THC in the] marijuana.”

The thick liquid is then “cooked,” burning the butane away from the purified THC. What’s left is a gooey substance that is known by many names on the street including dabs, honey oil and 710, which according to a DEA website is oil backwards and upside down.

According to Burillville police, BHO has a price tag that is sometime four times as much as its leafy cousin.

State Fire Marshal Jack Chartier told Target 12 the process can send butane fumes into the air that can be ignited with virtually any type of combustion. While the Kinsley fire cause remains under investigation, the explosive nature of BHO production was highlighted in a New York Times article that indicated investigators in Colorado, where marijuana is legal, blamed 32 explosive fires and 17 injuries in 2014 on BHO lab explosions and fires.

There are no indications that Rhode Island law will change to consider the explosive nature of extracting THC from pot with butane. Right now, according to Attorney General’s office spokeswoman Amy Kempe, possession of BHO is treated like possession of marijuana.

“While charging by the Office is made on a case by case basis and is fact specific,” Kempe said. “In general, the Office views the manufacture of BHO as manufacturing of a controlled substance.”

The issue has attracted the attention of the Drug Enforcement Administration, According to a document filed on the Federal Register, in 2011, the DEA was proposing a “new controlled substances code” to better track marijuana extracts. A call to New England’s DEA spokesman to determine if the proposal made it on the books was not returned.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

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