Moreno Valley resident Alex Gonzales thought making butane honey oil — a powerful marijuana byproduct — in a Palm Springs motel room in 2015 would be a quick, simple task, until a spark caused the room to catch fire, severely burning him and his sleeping girlfriend.
Gonzales, 25, and his girlfriend Selina Cervantes, 21, said Tuesday that they are trying to put their lives back together after the accident. Gonzales suffered major burns to much of his body, and had skin grafts over much of his right side. Cervantes was even more badly injured: She is completely covered in burns, her lips and many of her fingers were burned off and she now must use a wheelchair.
The couple, and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, hope their experience will serve as a warning to others that using butane to make honey oil can be extremely dangerous.
Explosions from butane honey oil extraction are becoming more and more frequent as honey oil becomes more popular, District Attorney Mike Hestrin said during a news conference Tuesday.
As part of Gonzales’ probation sentence, he and Cervantes’ story is being featured in a marketing campaign from the District Attorney’s Office denouncing the practice.
“This is life changing and devastating to be the one who did it,” Gonzales said. “That’s just something you have to deal with every day.”
Gonzales and Cervantes tell their story in three videos that will be advertised on YouTube and other social media websites, Hestrin said. The videos will be strategically posted so that people searching for instructions on butane honey oil extraction will see them. The campaign is costing $9,700, and is being paid for by a grant from the Riverside County Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act program.
“We hope that we can force people engaging in this behavior to watch these videos,” Hestrin said. “I truly believe that anybody who watches these videos and begins to understand the magnitude of what they’re doing will think twice.”
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Honey oil — a golden, gooey substance that is also known as hash oil, BHO, wax, shatter or dab — contains a high amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The most common way people make it is to use a solvent such as butane to strip the marijuana buds of their THC. But butane is highly flammable, and the slightest spark — such as from a light bulb, pilot light or water heater — can ignite it, with devastating results. Someone was killed in a 2014 explosion in Muscoy.
A California law that will go into effect in 2018 will make the manufacturing of honey oil legal under strict conditions. Ordinances in most of the Inland Empire — excluding Cathedral City, Coachella and Adelanto — outlaw the process.
Under the new law, only licensed labs will be legal. But Hestrin said the problem with honey oil manufacturing is that it’s typically done illegally in homes, hotel rooms, backyards and other unsafe places.
Gonzales said he had successfully made honey oil with butane one other time with friends. Before trying it on his own, he watched how-to videos.
“You jump online on YouTube and see everybody’s doing it, each video has millions of views, so it kind of encourages you,” Gonzales said. “You think it’s easy and just grab a couple things and you do it. It just blows up in an instant … you don’t prepare for that.”
Cervantes said participating in the videos and seeing them when they are finished has been emotionally draining for her. She is scheduled to undergo more surgery.
She hopes that anyone planning to make honey oil knows what could happen.
“Get your info right, make sure you really look into what you’re deciding to do, because this can change your life in just one second,” Cervantes said.