Was a Recent Fire in Los Angeles Connected to Cannabis?

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The fires of assumption burned bright when it came to blaming marijuana for a downtown L.A. blaze.

When a place called Smoke Tokes catches fire, people tend to arrive at some hasty conclusions.

In this case, the aforementioned inferno occurred in an area of downtown Los Angeles sometimes known as “bong row.” The nickname, according to the L.A. Times, is thanks to the spot’s “concentration of retailers selling rolling papers, butane and other supplies associated with vaping, tobacco and the extraction of THC for marijuana vape cartridges.”

On May 16, one such retailer, Smoke Tokes, saw their facility explode and catch fire. The resulting efforts to extinguish the flames resulted in injuries to at least a dozen firefighters responding to the scene. It also ushered in a number of questions as to what, exactly, was the nature of Smoke Tokes’ business.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the question appeared more as an accusation: one aimed squarely at cannabis.

Still nascent, the legal weed industry remains eager to prove its safety and relative “normalness” in everyday life. Thus, a violent explosion ranks about dead last on its list of desired outcomes. As it turns out, cannabis in the clear.

Instead, according to the Smoke Tokes website, they are an “international distributor and wholesaler of smoking and vaping products.” One product common to cigarette lighters, chef’s torches, and cannabis extraction is butane. Using butane honey oil (or BHO) as a cannabis extraction method is nothing new, but the relative dangers of working with a volatile substance like BHO does mean that the occasional newsworthy explosion does take place.

In this case, however, it appears the business in question — one that has, in fact, previously had similar issues — is operating on the level. Distributing butane is not illegal. Any fire has the potential to be tragic and is worthy of investigation (when warranted). As a result of the blaze, the Los Angeles Fire Department announced a citywide review of the way certain businesses store their volatile materials.

Even as the headline-worthy portion of the narrative resolves, another story remains ongoing. Yes, once again, it’s necessary to examine how quickly the finger got pointed at cannabis.

Before the flames were out, online sleuths were already connecting the dots between the alleged name of the establishment that exploded and the cannabis industry. Writing for Forbes, Chris Roberts contextualized this response within a lineage of media outlets being fast to blame weed if given but a crumb to go on.

“Judgment and blame came swiftly because blaming weed for a violent explosion and fire fits a familiar script,” Roberts noted, “though one that hasn’t been dusted off in California for a while.”

To be clear: the public concern needn’t be with vindicating Smoke Tokes. Their responsibility will be determined when the cause of the explosion is fully understood. It’s likely this incident will at least lead to revised regulations with regards to how L.A. businesses handle volatile materials, which is a positive.

What should trigger alarm bells is how the prospect of cannabis as a “boogeyman” continues to linger as a viable threat to mainstream acceptance. It’s one thing to immediately take the most negative possible slant on a story that involves marijuana from the get-go, but to simply assume it must be a culprit based on a name? That’s shoddy logic at best.

The irony thickens when one takes into account the numerous, often onerous regulations required of licensed cannabis manufacturers in California who do work with BHO. The situation is akin to telling the only soldier at the frontlines with a bulletproof vest to find some better protection.

Safety was supposed to be the tradeoff for the endless red tape, higher prices, etc. If consumers still fail to realize the peace of mind their dollars can provide when spent within the legal market, then that’s a trail of smoke all of us should actually consider following.

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