When a case involving marijuana wax first landed on Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie’s desk, he called upon Google to assist in the investigation.
“I had never heard of it,” Leslie said.
That was two weeks ago. On Wednesday, state law enforcement officials and St. Cloud and Duluth police chiefs gathered to warn about what they’re calling a dangerous new trend in drug use. A highly concentrated form of marijuana, wax contains two to six times more THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, than the drug in its original form.
Authorities have tied the production of marijuana wax to the death of a St. Cloud woman and a pair of nonfatal overdoses in Duluth.
Advocates of marijuana legalization said such incidents could be curbed by legalization and regulation.
Similar in consistency to honey, marijuana wax is made by cooking ground marijuana leaves in a cylinder soaked with butane to yield a substance that can be smoked using water pipes or vaporizer pens or added to food. A more intense physical and psychological high results.
Brian Marquart, statewide drug and gang coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said the department doesn’t yet track marijuana concentrates as a separate category. At this point, he said, law enforcement is raising awareness “so we can prevent another tragedy.”
Police in St. Cloud say a house fire in late November that killed 85-year-old Sally Douglas is tied to marijuana wax production.
Dustin R. Zablocki, 18, of St. Cloud, and Justin E. Pick, 19, of Sartell, were charged Wednesday in Stearns County District Court with aiding and abetting third-degree murder. The charges said the men were making marijuana wax at Douglas’ house when there was an explosion and the house caught fire. Douglas died Dec. 8 from smoke inhalation related to the Nov. 22 fire, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office.
Dangerous or debatable?
Those calling for the legalization of marijuana say such cases highlight the need for regulation akin to the alcohol industry.
“If law enforcement is serious about the dangers of people making hash oil in basements, they should support a legalized industry,” said Marcus Harcus, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Authorities also said a pair of Duluth teenagers overdosed on marijuana wax recently. In a video released by law enforcement, the mother of one of the teens described her son gasping for air and vomiting after ingesting the drug.
Debbie Anderson, director of the Minnesota Poison Center, said her office has received eight calls related to marijuana wax usage since 2013. Most cases involve severe sedation and behavioral changes, including hallucinations or psychotic episodes. She said combining marijuana wax use with driving could prove fatal, but using too much could also be deadly if someone couldn’t breathe or choked on vomit.
Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policy for the national Marijuana Policy Project, argued that a lethal THC dosage is not possible. “Is it true that there are people who consume concentrates when they don’t know what they’re doing and have bad experiences? Absolutely,” he said. “But those bad experiences don’t lead to them pushing daisies.”
Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said marijuana wax became an issue in his city in the last four to five months.
Marquart said it’s unclear if marijuana wax is more prevalent in certain places, but drug task forces across the state have reported cases.
Though Leslie hasn’t seen much marijuana wax in Dakota County yet, he’s concerned about it spreading.
“What we see is there are no boundaries,” Leslie said. “It doesn’t take much for a group of younger gentlemen to head to Colorado, hang out, learn some stuff and take it back here.”
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this story.