Two people were arrested, including a boy, after a hash oil fire in Colorado Springs, Feb. 26, 2015. (Denver Post file)

Colorado Supreme Court: Man who caused explosion while making hash oil not covered by legalization

A 21-year-old Colorado Springs man who blew up his home’s laundry room after brewing hash oil with a butane burner still needed a license to “manufacture” the oil after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled.

The Colorado Supreme Court decision on Monday reversed a district court ruling that dismissed a pot manufacturing criminal charge against Austin Joseph Lente on the basis that he was protected under Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana.

The Supreme Court wrote that another state law makes a distinction between the terms “processing” and “manufacturing” marijuana and that extracting hash oil from marijuana is a step above mere processing of marijuana and requires licensing.

“We hold that Amendment 64 does not protect unlicensed hash-oil extraction,” the Supreme Court ruled.

But Colorado Chief Justice Nancy Rice dissented. She said the Colorado law is confusing and contradictory. At one point it refers to manufacturing and processing marijuana as separate terms and in another section manufacturing was encompassed processing.

“Therefore, the statutory scheme was so vague that an ordinary person would not have known that it prescribed hash oil extraction via butane, and Lente’s conviction should be vacated,” Rice wrote in her dissent, which was joined by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Richard Gabriel.

Lente’s case is notable for another reason: it shows how not to manufacture hash oil.

According to court records, Lente told Colorado Springs police and firefighters on Feb. 26, 2015 that he had frozen a jar of marijuana, took it out of the freezer and injected butane into the jar through a hole in the lid. But before he could return the jar to the freezer the bottom of the jar broke, spilling butane on the floor.

The explosion lit the laundry room of a home on the 300 block of Locust Drive on fire. Police arrested Lente and a minor. Along with illegal manufacturing of marijuana, El Paso County prosecutors charged him with arson, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and criminal mischief.

Judge David Prince dismissed the manufacturing charge on Dec. 1, 2015. District Attorney Dan May appealed. The Supreme Court returned the case to Colorado Springs for further proceedings.

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