MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (KARE) -- Minnesota is seeing explosive growth in the use and manufacture of a highly-concentrated marijuana extract known as wax. Made through a highly-flammable process, the drug’s manufacture is being blamed for deaths and injuries across the country.
The death of a Minnesota grandmother on November 22, 2014 was when marijuana wax, also known as dabs, first made headlines in the state.
It was early evening when Sally Douglas, 85, was pulled from her burning home by firefighters.
Douglas would die two weeks later from her injuries.
Douglas’s grandson Dustin Zablocki, 18, and his buddy, Justin Pick, 19, were convicted of manufacturing marijuana wax in the home’s basement, sparking the fire that killed Douglas.
KARE 11 Investigates obtained never before seen police dash camera video and other investigative recordings.
They detail the search for victims inside the burning home and a conversation between Zablocki and a police officer as firefighters worked to knock down the flames.
“We’ll keep you updated on what’s going on, alright,” the female officer said as she led the teenager to her patrol car to get out of the cold.
Zablocki’s response seemed bizarre at first.
“You mean the fact that I just killed my grandma?” he said.
“Why did you just kill her?” the surprised officer replied. “What are you talking about?”
Zablocki did not respond.
Sensing there might be something more than a normal house fire going on, St. Cloud police separated Zablocki and his friend, Justin Pick.
Pick, while in the backseat of a police car told an officer how the fire started. “We had a hot plate going in the room,” he said. “To make dabs.”
“Dabs” are a resin extracted from marijuana. “A sticky wax-like substance,” is how Northwest Metro Drug Task Force commander Bob Topp describes the drug, also known as butane hash, hash oil, or marijuana wax.
It’s made through a process that forces highly flammable butane through a tube to strip a marijuana plant of THC, he explained.
THC is the chemical that produces a high. The product is then cooked.
“We see it in different forms,” Topp told KARE 11. “But this is probably the most popular,” he said while displaying sheets of the wax seized in a bust.
The marijuana wax is becoming more popular because it is highly concentrated, giving users a high that is up to eight times more intense than loose leaf marijuana.
“What gets you more high is what people are after,” said Topp. “And this is it.”
Back in St. Cloud, talking while in a squad car, a police officer asked Justin Pick, “Where did you guys hear about this?”
“There’s about 10,000 videos on how to make it on YouTube,” he replied.
We googled it. He’s right. There are countless videos with step-by-step instructions showing exactly how to make marijuana wax. There are almost as many warnings about how dangerous it can be.
The St. Cloud teenagers were using a hotplate and small canisters of butane to make their “dabs” when fire filled the air.
“It was like huge flames just right in our face,” Pick told the officer.
“Butane fires have this very fast instantaneous explosion that can reach up to about 2,000 degrees,” Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Jim Smith told KARE 11.
“If they’re working in a basement anywhere near a water heater, furnace something like that - that’s a great source of ignition,” he warned.
Explosions, fires, deaths and injuries are being reported across the country from this recipe.
It has become especially problematic in states that have loosened marijuana laws.
Recently released footage from a medical marijuana dispensary in New Mexico highlights the dangers even in a controlled setting. The workers can be seen making the wax when the room becomes hell on earth.
The explosion of flame leaves the workers running for the exit with their bodies on fire.
Those workers survived what a St. Cloud grandmother could not.
There’s evidence the use and manufacture of marijuana wax is increasing here in Minnesota.
KARE 11’s review of state data reveals criminal cases involving marijuana wax have skyrocketed since 2013 when 357 grams were seized statewide.
It jumped to 3,547 grams in 2014, 12,468 grams in 2015 and this year is on pace for more than 18,000 grams to be seized by law enforcement.
“Everywhere from outstate, small town Minnesota to major metropolitan areas,” said Brian Marquart who coordinates Minnesota’s statewide drug and gang task forces. “We had about 60 arrests all of last year,” he told KARE 11, “and so far this year we’ve had over a hundred arrests of dealers and sellers.”
Recently, Vikings super fan Karl Heinrichs, aka Sir Death, made headlines when he was busted in a drug case. He’s pleaded not guilty, but court records claim nine pounds of marijuana wax was seized from his Stillwater home.
Unlike getting caught with regular old pot, possession of even a small amount of the wax can carry some serious judicial weight.
“Because it’s a concentrate, by statute any amount is a felony,” Marquart said.
The debate over marijuana is always a heated one, but to even accidentally spark a fire that kills someone, as Zablocki and Pick did in St. Cloud, and you can end up with murder on your rap sheet.
“And that’s something I’ll be living with,” Zablocki told officers.
Zablocki was sentenced to 84 months in prison in May.
Pick pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting third-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years of probation.
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