The Feds’ Surprising Response To Exploding Hash-Oil Labs

WASHINGTON:  Eight months ago, an explosion and fire tore through the Hampton Greens apartment complex in Bellevue. It happened at 6:30 in the morning. Among the residents was Nan Campbell, the 87-year-old former mayor of Bellevue. She was the city’s first female mayor, elected in 1988.

According to charging documents filed July 22 in US District Court in connection with the explosion, Campbell “was forced to flee the building as a result of the fire, and fell and fractured her pelvis while doing so.” Another woman in the building had to “drop out of her third-story window to escape the flames,” which resulted in a fractured spine, broken arm, and broken ankle. Yet another woman fractured her leg after leaping from a second-story window to escape. Authorities say the fire began after butane fuel, which was being used to make hash oil, ignited in one of the apartments. Campbell happened to be in a neighboring unit at the time. She was taken to the hospital after her fall, and “she later expired due to complications” from her injuries.

At a press conference on July 22, US Attorney Jenny Durkan announced she was filing federal charges against seven people who allegedly operated hash-oil-manufacturing labs that exploded, including that residential lab in Bellevue. Other explosions cited occurred in a house in Puyallup, a house in Seattle, and an apartment building in Kirkland. Seven suspects face up to 35 years in prison on charges that include endangering human life while manufacturing a controlled substance, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and manufacturing hash oil.

What was typical about the press conference was the rah-rah drug-war nature of it all, right down to the silly name, “Operation Shattered.” Federal drug crackdowns—and the media circuses that promote them—historically amount to law-enforcement officials slapping each other on the back for sending people to prison without actually making a dent in drug supply or curtailing harms. Ironically, this aggressive enforcement drives drug manufacturing further underground, which is how you end up with hash-oil labs in apartment buildings, or meth labs in motels for that matter.