It may not be the marijuana you know.
Critics of ballot measure 2, which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana sales in Alaska, say the initiative allows for much more than just the green, leafy plant traditionally associated with the drug.
“This initiative specifically legalizes, industrializes, commercializes and advertises substances such as shatter, butane hash oil, ear wax and crumble,” said Deborah Williams, deputy treasurer for the No on 2 camp.
Tim Hinterberger of the Yes on 2 group said those substances are not necessarily harmful.
“I think most people have heard of hash oil, which people, you know, can make that in your kitchen,” Hinterberger said.
The initiative defines marijuana as “all parts of the plant and every compound, salt, derivative, mixture and concentrate.”
Businesses in Colorado have been cashing in.
“It’s a billion-dollar industry,” said Chris Boucher of U.S. Hemp Oil. “There's just not marijuana that comes from the plant and the seed. There are 50,000 other products.”
In Denver, dispensaries sell drinks and desserts, all laced with marijuana.
But with rapid growth comes problems.
“There's just a lot we don't know about this plant,” said Genifer Murray, founder and CEO of CannLabs in Denver, which tests and analyzes recreational and medical marijuana. “We've seen pesticides, molds, mildews, E. coli, salmonella, we've seen it all.”
Starting this summer, testing facilities like CannLabs must let the state know when it finds harmful substances in marijuana, and all retailers will have to begin testing their products.
“We test for methanol, benzene, because these are things people are using but they are toxic,” said Heather Despres, lab director at CannLabs. “Some contains benzene, which is found in paint thinner and gasoline. You don't really want to smoke gasoline. Probably not. I know I don't.”
Perhaps more startling, Alaska’s anti-legalization group says, is what the marijuana industry calls “concentrates.”
“We encourage Alaskans to Google butane hash oil or shatter green crack,” said Kristina Woolston of the No on 2 campaign. “These other products are so much more dangerous and potent than what we may think of as marijuana in Alaska.”
“There's nothing all that exotic about it except the means,” Hinterberger said of making has oil. “More importantly is that even in concentrated forms, cannabis marijuana products are less harmful, less dangerous and pose less risk to the user than alcohol.”
The University of Colorado Hospital’s burn center, however, has seen a “significant increase” in the number of patients with serious burns because of butane hash oil explosions—14 cases in 14 months, said hospital spokesperson Dan Weaver.
Butane hash oil, or BHO, is so dangerous critics call it the “crack cocaine” of our time. Colorado lawmakers are working to differentiate between marijuana and concentrates like BHO. A bill is currently making its way through that state’s legislature to limit the amount of concentrates dispensaries can sell.
In Denver, Cheyenne Fox with 3D Cannabis Center said she currently sells concentrates, but usually with a warning.
“Concentrates are one of those things you have to be very careful with as a business owner,” Fox said. “You have to be very careful that you’re explaining to your customers what these products are and how powerful they can be. One hit of a shatter or wax or concentrate would be equal from four to five to 10 hits, depending on the person, of regular marijuana. So concentrates, while they can be very effective with people who don't want to smoke large amounts of cannabis, they can also be dangerous because you can get extremely high extremely quickly.”
An Anchorage man said he makes butane hash at home.
“That stuff right now is going for 40 to 80 bucks a gram here in town,” he said. “It's popular.”
He’s been convicted of felony drug charges, so he asked not to be named. He said he grows marijuana in his tomato garden.
“It's a weed, so you can tie it and bend it and it will shape and grow to any form you want,” he said. “You can even break the stalk and usually the stalk will mend itself, so you can bend it, and the tomato plants are out, so you can just weave it in and out of the tomatoes.”
One-eighth of an ounce of marijuana sells for $40 in Anchorage and an ounce can fetch up to $300, he said.
“More out in the villages--$100 per one-eighth of an ounce” the grower said. “People who fly into town do get taken advantage of.”
He said he supports legalization, but said it won’t get rid of the black market.
“I think they're full of themselves if they think it's going to go away,” he said. “You've still got people underground in Colorado, Washington. You just got some that's not going to surface. Maybe they've been growing for a long time, got caught, been burned, lost everything, they don't want to chance that again so they just stay underground.”
He said taxation could also foster more criminal behavior.
“If the state says we're going to tax you 50 bucks an ounce, you're always going to have somebody going, ‘Well, that’s like 800 bucks on a pound. Why am I going to pay the state $800? It's taking money out of my pocket.’”