The popularity of marijuana-derived concentrates, including wax, honey oil, and shatter, has correlated to a rash of extraction-lab explosions across Southern Calfornia over the last two years.
But police operations specifically targeting the makers of this potent form of medicine have been few and far between, with authorities often breaking out the handcuffs only after the firefighters have arrived.
It turns out that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has been quietly on the case of concentrates in SoCal for a while, though:
The DEA this week announced that nine people have been arrested as part of a year-long investigation it's calling "Operation Shattered Dreams." They were scheduled to be in court today.
Agents served warrants in San Diego, Spring Valley, Chula Vista, and El Cajon and busted up "multiple, active butane hash-oil laboratories," according to the federal agency.
Spokeswoman Amy L. Roderick says agents have been aware of concentrate labs in the area since "early 2012." "SoCal is a hot spot for these types of labs," she told us.
This week the DEA seized $25,000 in cash and marijuana used to make concentrates, according to a statement. Agents say the dispensary prices for concentrates, about $40 to $80 a gram, means there's a huge incentive to make it, despite the explosive dangers.
Concentrates mean that marijuana that can have levels of THC as low as 23 percent is boosted to as much as 85 percent THC when it's transformed into wax, honey oil and shatter, the DEA says.
The products are extracted using butane, a highly volatile fuel that has literally blown up in the concentrate-makers' faces more than once.
In fact, the DEA says extraction labs have been the locations of 20 explosions and fires in the San Diego area since October 2013. Authorities say the labs are bad not only for the health of the makers of concentrates, but for neighbors whose own places could burn up too.
This week's suspects were named by the DEA:
David Joel Demaso
James Andrew Crom
Derek James Nepote
Matthew Steven Darby
Alexia Crom (aka: Alexia Samaniego)
Francine Sarda Gonzalez
They could face allegations of manufacturing a controlled substance, cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of concentrated cannabis, child endangerment, and possession of an illegal assault rifle, authorities said.
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California has not outlawed the sale of concentrates at legit weed dispensaries, so it'll be interesting to see if these suspects try to employ a medical marijuana defense.
The DEA's San Diego special agent in charge, William R. Sherman, indicated that there will be more concentrate busts to come:
DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to target and relentlessly pursue the individuals responsible that are running these dangerous labs.