Police in Sonoma County raided several grow sites in June, seizing equipment, shutting down two popular marijuana brands, and closing a lab used to make cannabis products sold across California.
Santa Rosa police arrested Dennis Franklin Hunter, 43, the owner of Absolute Xtracts and Care by Design, both marijuana brands. Authorities said the two companies were part of an illegal hash oil ring that used prohibited methods and chemicals in violation of numerous municipal codes.
Hunter was jailed on $5 million bail, facing charges of manufacturing a controlled substance. The bail is unusually high for this type of crime, said Santa Rosa Police Lt. Mike Lazzarini, because Hunter has a record of evading law enforcement.
The story from Hunter’s businesses was decidedly different. Nick Caston, spokesman for the two brands, said they don’t use any of the volatile chemicals that are banned in hash oil production. Care by Design and Absolute Xtracts make lines of oil vape cartridges, oil-infused sprays, and oil-filled gel caps.
‘Best practices of any company in the state’
“We produce medicine as determined by the voters in the 1990s, and we do it with the best practices of any company in the state,” Caston said. The brands were launched in 2014 under a cooperative that now provides hash oil to thousands of patients “at dispensaries in every major town in the state, from San Diego north,” he said.
Marijuana is legal in California for medical use, and it will likely be legal for recreational use after the November election. There is no general state law against hash oil production, but many local communities either ban it or tightly regulate it under their own rules.
Hunter has a history of legal problems involving cannabis. Federal authorities issued an arrest warrant for him in the late 1990s for growing a Humboldt County pot farm with 12,000 plants, the largest grow site in the county to that point. He spent four years on the run before being arrested in 2002.
Hunter’s history of evading police
Hunter served a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence, but in 2013 he dodged police again, this time escaping from an Arkansas airport on a plane authorities believed contained drugs. He later turned himself in.
But Caston noted that the legal pot industry itself descends from a lawless black market. That’s just part of the history of the business, he said, and no one should expect their marijuana providers to be squeaky clean.
Black market built the industry
“They’re the folks that have been leading the way, breaking down the stigma, breaking down the misconceptions,” he said. “He’s really a visionary, along with the other folks in our company, trying to bring practices that are safe. This (law enforcement) action is very surprising.”
Caston insisted the labs where hash oil was made never used butane, a solvent banned for manufacturing marijuana products. Butane is highly explosive, and its popularity as a means of making hash oil is declining. Instead, Caston said, the lab used high-pressure carbon dioxide devices to extract resin.
Lazzarini said officers found several empty butane canisters at one of the properties. Caston said they were left over from an “R&D project” scrapped at least two years ago, but Lazzarini said police would continue their investigation.
Comment below: Should authorities do more to prevent hash oil manufacturers from using butane, or less?