Police are sounding the alarms after finding three illegal cannabis extraction labs were found at residences in the city in the past month.
All located in the city’s southeast, two of those labs were found after they exploded, causing fires inside the residences, the other was found while police were investigating an unrelated sudden death.
At a news conference at the EPS downtown headquarters Wednesday, Sgt. Guy Pilon said the labs were being used to turn illegally purchased cannabis into a concentrated substance called shatter.
“That involves using solvents and gases to precipitate the THC out of the marijuana,” said Pilon. “These labs can be very dangerous, they’re using highly combustible fuel. We found 100 pound canisters of propane and butane.”
The use of solvents to extract THC, the main intoxicating ingredient, from cannabis is illegal. Shatter, which is roughly three times stronger than cannabis, was not legalized for recreational use under changes to the Cannabis Act last October.
Pilon said the labs were using a form of colourless, odourless butane that, if leaked, sinks to the floor and rises up walls. Once it’s released the gas is extremely combustible and can ignite from a furnace starting or static energy in a room. A 16-ounce can of butane can cause a 1,450-square-foot residence to explode, Pilon said.
“We’re asking people to be vigilant and contact the police if you see anything suspicious in your neighbourhood,” said Pilon. “These can be dangerous. Don’t try poking around in there, just get out and give us a call.”
The first lab was found on April 17, with the latest one causing a fire last Saturday. Pilon said EPS have found similar labs in the past but this is the first time that he has seen this many labs in such a short period of time.
“I kind of anticipated that we would get an upsurge in these (labs) because people like the concentrates. They’re not yet legalized and there’s money to be made from those who produce it,” said Pilon.
He said a gram of shatter can be sold for up to $80 on the black market.
Sgt. Pat Campeau, an EPS drug expert, said he doesn’t expect the upcoming legalization of edibles to curb the production of shatter as they cause different types of highs.
Pilon said each lab is under investigation and could not say if any charges had been laid. Anyone found creating shatter can be charged with production under the federal cannabis act.