By Gretchen Schuldt
Penalties for second-offense marijuana possession, already a felony, would increase substantially if butane extraction was used in the production process, under a bill making its way through the Legislature.
Industry officials say that occasional users may have no clue how their product was processed, although frequent imbibers may be able to tell the difference by the taste.
The maximum penalty for second-offense (or greater) possession now is 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Under the bill, the penalties for second-offense (or greater) marijuana would increase depending on the amount of butane-extracted cannabis involved. The amounts and maximum penalties would be:
The bill also would significantly increase the penalty for manufacturing, delivering, or selling any amount of butane-extracted cannabis. Currently, marijuana manufacturing and dealing carries different sentences depending on the amount involved. Under the bill, those crimes, regardless of amount, would be punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. That means a person could go potentially to prison for a very long stretch for sharing a gummy bear with a friend.
Butane extraction is a common method of concentrating cannabis resin. Butane extraction can produce a THC concentration of up to 90%. The concentrate is used in a variety of products, including edibles and vaping juices.
Commercial entities generally use a closed system of butane extraction, which is not considered an explosion hazard. Closed systems keep the butane from escaping into the atmosphere.
Some processors, including those running clandestine labs, use an "open blasting" system that allows the butane to escape into the atmosphere, creating a danger of explosions.
The pending bill does not differentiate between open and closed production methods used or whether any hazards are actually present.
"This is a very misguided effort," said Bryce Brisbin, director of technical sales at Luna Technologies, a cannabis extraction company. Closed-system butane cannabis extraction is safe and provides a high-quality product, he said.
"Open blasting should be banned, totally illegal," he said. "It's incredibly stupid."
State Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona), a sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly, said in prepared testimony last week that "The criminal elements and punishments of possessing, manufacturing, and delivery of BHO (butane honey oil) is the same as marijuana. I understand marijuana is needed to make BHO, but the process is making a totally different product, with a higher potency, which sells at a higher rate, putting the lives of those who manufacture it and others at risk."
He acknowledged that the closed-loop system was generally more "safer, controlled, and effective" than the open blasting system.
"The societal harms stemming from more prevalent and more potent cannabis is well-established in research exploring the effects on public safety and violent crime, traffic safety and the workforce," said State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), another sponsor. "The narrative surrounding the alleged medical benefits of cannabis tends to readily dismiss the aforementioned harms."
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