Butane Hash Oil: The Future of Pot

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Another booming BHO tool is the handheld portable vaporizer, which allows users to toke discreetly in public. "That business is just going to get bigger," Prichard says.

The fact that dabs is illegal in Florida hasn't stopped entrepreneurs from profiting. The Atmos Raw, a handheld oil vaporizer ranked number one among 15 models by High Times this past March 27, is made in Davie. The manufacturer, Atmos Technology, operates from a warehouse about a half-mile from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

During a Tuesday afternoon in late September, Atmos' general manager, Patty Oquedo, was at the front desk helping two customers who were buying a couple of vaporizer pens and dabbers, the stainless-steel, pencil-like utensils used to scoop wax. The walls of the lobby were lined with at least a dozen vaporizer models. The company also makes disposable vaporizers and pens for tobacco companies such as Zig-Zag.

Oquedo and Atmos' president, Charly Benassayag, declined to comment for this article. "We can't be associated with what you are writing about," Oquedo said. "Our products are for tobacco only."

Mario, a tall graphic artist with a beard that would shame Paul Bunyan, slides his hands into a pair of black latex gloves and digs his fingers into a blue glass bowl containing a savory pot salad of OG Kush, Grand Daddy Purp, and Girl Scout cookies. On a Tuesday morning in early September, the onetime New York resident hunches over his wooden coffee table while meticulously crushing green, orange, and purple buds mixed with leaves and stems.

"This is roughly 60 grams of shake and popcorn buds from different strains grown outdoors in California," Mario says. "I'm doing this run for some friends who had some leftovers. Right now I am breaking up the smaller buds so everything is the same consistency."

Mario is a "chef," or someone who makes BHO. He's been "blasting" (making the oil) for almost two years. Across the nation, except in Colorado, hundreds of chefs such as Mario risk arrest for operating drug labs. Mario clandestinely cooks weekday mornings, when most of his neighbors are at work and their children in school.

Profit makes it worth taking the chance. In California and Colorado, a gram of dabs runs $25 to $30, but dealers in Miami charge $50 to $80 for the same amount.

Mario stuffs the weed into an aluminum tube and walks onto the front patio, enclosed by a six-foot-high wooden fence.

He injects butane into the tube, and a few seconds later, a clear yellowish liquid begins to drip onto the pan as two portable fans circulate air around the patio. "I just make it for myself and my friends," he says. "I'm not a large-scale operation — certainly not high-tech."

Mario has certainly perfected his method since trying wax for the first time in the summer of 2011. "A friend made some of the shittiest oil ever," he recalls. "At the time, neither of us knew the right process of extracting all the butane."

Mario spent the next three months learning from chefs in California, Colorado, and Washington. "I sought people who had been making it for a while and bothered the shit out of them," he says. "They were willing to help me out and share their knowledge."

Another Miami oil chef, Marley, a heavyset, sandy-blond man in his late 20s, began dabbing in 2010. He started making hash oil about nine months ago. "There are so many dab enthusiasts on Instagram. I would just go on people's [images] and read what they were posting," he says. "I do hashtag searches for '#dabs,' '#dabsofinstagram,' and '#dabbersdaily.' I even found pointers with '#vacuumpump.'"

Since they began making their own dabs, Mario and Marley rarely smoke trees now. "A heavy smoker like me is packing bowl after bowl," Marley says. "I'll do one dab and I'm high for four hours, at least."

Adds Mario, who has used marijuana since age 14: "For me, wax is a cleaner, healthier product. There is no leaf matter, which still produces tar. "

On a quiet residential street about a half-block from St. Petersburg High School, rain pelted the red-brick exterior of a garage converted into a one-bedroom apartment. Inside, Antonio Cortes and Robert Belize stood over an electric kitchen stove. Belize's girlfriend chilled in the bedroom. One of the 22-year-old men was attempting to make hash oil using low-grade hardware-store butane to pour the hash liquid into a Pyrex dish sitting on a hot burner.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.