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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 28, 2014

Dispensary Operator Indicted For Endangering Lives After Explosion Related To The Illegal Manufacturing Of Hash Oil

SAN DIEGO – San Diego resident Steve Elar Mora is charged in a federal grand jury indictment unsealed today with various drug and weapons charges, including endangering human life while illegally manufacturing hashish oil, after an explosion at the marijuana dispensary that he operated alerted authorities to the location.

According to court records, the explosion allegedly occurred due to an illicit Butane Honey Oil lab operating at the marijuana dispensary. Butane Honey Oil is an extremely potent form of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects.

The product, known as “butane hash oil” or “honey oil,” is made by dissolving marijuana using dangerous substances such as butane – or lighter fluid - and selling the resulting residue to users at over twice the price of other high quality marijuana products.

Efforts to extract hash oil are on the rise. According to the DEA, in 2014 alone there have been eight fires or explosions related to the illegal production of Butane Honey Oil. Since October 2011, there have been approximately 20 BHO fires/explosions in San Diego County.

The explosion connected to the indictment of Mora occurred on July 21, 2014, at the Greenworks Dispensary in the Clairemont area of San Diego. While executing a search warrant after the explosion, law enforcement also found a handgun and ammunition at the dispensary. According to the indictment, Mora has been convicted of two state felonies and is not allowed to possess a firearm under federal law.

Law enforcement also searched Mora’s residence, located near Mission Bay High School, in the Pacific Beach area. At his residence, DEA agents found an AR-15 assault rifle among his possessions.

The process of extracting THC from marijuana is known as “blasting.”

Marijuana is tightly packed into an extraction device such as a glass, plastic, or metal tube. A butane canister is then sprayed into the top of the extraction device. The butane strips the plant matter of its cannabinoid-containing oils, which drip from the bottom of the extraction device, often through a filter and into a holding container. The resulting honey-like mixture of psychotropic plant oil and chemicals is then purified to improve the quality of the product. The end product is highly-profitable and can be ingested as an oil, consumed in edibles or solidified to make concentrated forms of cannabis known as “wax.” In an act called “dabbing,” dabs of wax are vaporized and inhaled with the use of electronic cigarettes and other vaporizing devices.

During the different purification methods, butane, a flammable gas that is odorless, colorless, and heavier than air, can evaporate out of the substance and collect on the floor, accumulating to explosive levels without proper ventilation. Thus, while chemists are in the process of manufacturing BHO, they may simultaneously create an invisible risk of explosion.

Given the popularity of BHO in the marijuana market, the inexpensive equipment needed to manufacture BHO, and the countless how-to-blast videos posted on YouTube, hash oil labs are multiplying, as are explosions.

Mora made his first appearance in court today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan M. Adler, who set a detention hearing for Monday at 2 p.m. He also scheduled a motions hearing before U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz for Dec. 19.


DEFENDANTS    
Steve Elar Mora Age: 34 San Diego, California
 
CHARGES

Count 1:          Manufacturing of Marijuana and Hashish Oil-21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)
                        Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $1,000,000 fine
           
Count 2:          Conspiracy to Manufacture/Distribute Hashish Oil -21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846
                        Maximum penalty: 5 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine

Count 3:          Maintaining Drug-Involved Premises -21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1)
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $500,000 fine

Count 4:          Endangering Human Life While Illegally Manufacturing Hashish Oil -21 U.S.C. § 858
Maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine

Count 5,6:       Felon in Possession of Firearm and Ammunition-18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)
Maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment and $500,000 fine

Count 7:          Possession of Firearm in Furtherance of Drug Trafficking Crime-18 U.S.C. § 924(c)
Mandatory 5 years’ imprisonment consecutive to drug trafficking sentence

 
INVESTIGATING AGENCY

Drug Enforcement Agency

*Indictments and complaints are not evidence that the defendant committed the crime charged.  All defendants are presumed innocent until the United States meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.     

Updated July 23, 2015