Winooski Police say the so-called “clandestine lab” authorities discovered Tuesday in the city’s downtown was being used to make a marijuana derivative called Butane Hash Oil, or BHO.
Winooski Police Lieutenant Scott McGivern says the lab, which was in an apartment above a bar in downtown Winooski, posed a threat to public safety.
“The process involves heat, pressure and butane fuel,” he said. “The production of BHO is equally as volatile as the production of methamphetamine.”
The department called in the Vermont State Police Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement Team as well as the state’s hazmat emergency response team to help dismantle the lab safely.
McGivern said BHO labs are not addressed by any state law.
“Vermont does have statutes in place that govern clandestine labs, but the statutes that are in place do not cover BHO labs because of the process and the equipment, basically,” he said.
That means people operating BHO labs can’t be charged in the same way as a methamphetamine manufacturer despite the fact that, according to McGivern, the processes are similarly dangerous.
“So in a meth amphetamine operation, you can bring charges for having the lab setup – lab equipment – as well as the products present,” he said. “But in a BHO situation, currently you can only charge for the raw materials present as well as the final product.”
McGivern said he is confident the lab was in violation of the law, but no charges have been brought in the ongoing investigation. He said a tenant in the apartment where the lab was discovered is a suspect in the case, though he didn’t know if there was one tenant or multiple.
Police contacted the tenant after an anonymous tip about “a potential public safety concern,” McGivern said. He said the tenant allowed the fire chief and the director of code enforcement for the city to inspect the apartment for public safety issues.
“Items were located within the apartment which indicated the presence of a functional clandestine lab,” McGivern said. Once officials found the lab, they began evacuating the building and nearby buildings as a safety precaution and closed traffic on half of the traffic circle in downtown Winooski.
Police haven’t released information about exactly how much butane, marijuana or BHO they found in the apartment, and McGivern said the investigation is ongoing.