Butane explosion in LA’s ‘Bong Row’ injured 12 firefighters in smoking supply warehouse blaze

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Smoke billows from the scene of a major fire in downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 16, 2020. Photo credit: Brian Landis via REUTERS

Downtown Los Angeles was rocked by an enormous explosion over the weekend. A fire at smoking supply warehouse Smoke Tokes injured 12 firefighters, and damaged several storefronts. Officials said firefighters had to pass through a 30 foot wide fireball to escape. More than 200 firefighters extinguished the blaze over the course of two hours. The cause is now under investigation from local and federal authorities. The LA Fire Department says that Smoke Tokes was reportedly an unlicensed supplier for something called butane honey oil. 

“[It’s] the street name for a type of cannabis extract made with butane,” says David Downs, the California Bureau Chief of Leafly. “Millions of Americans now enjoy cannabis extracts, usually in the form of a THC vape pen. This industry is worth billions of dollars, but only about 10 percent of it is legal. And the other 90 percent is satisfied by clandestine BHO labs.” 

It is illegal to sell odorless butane in bulk in California since July 2019. Downs says that vendors like Smoke Tokes take advantage of a loophole that allows them to sell small single-use containers of butane. Unlicensed cannabis extract manufacturers buy large quantities of the product to make butane hash or honey oil. More than a dozen people in California have been killed by hash oil explosions since 2014, and 120 were injured, according to the DEA. Smoke Tokes caught on fire in 2016 at an another address in the same neighborhood. 

The LA Fire Department is now leading a citywide review of how these kinds of shops store volatile materials. The fire in the neighborhood authorities call “Bong Row” could be an indicator for what could go wrong if the illegal market continues to go unchecked, says Downs. 

“Angelenos use thousands of pounds of extract per year, but the city has yet to license and certify a single volatile chemical extraction lab for cannabis. Other cities have licensed hundreds,” says Downs. “The world's biggest cannabis market has ceded most of itself to the street, and these are the results.”

Credits

Host:
Larry Perel

Producer:
Cerise Castle