Over the past year or two, “wax,” or butane hash oil, has been of particular nuisance to local law enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Why it deserves the attention and focus of such groups, however, is a mystery.


What is “Wax”?


Wax is made by placing marijuana into a tube or pipe and then hitting the pipe with a rush of butane (“blasting.”) This process extracts the THC from the marijuana. THC is, of course, the active ingredient in marijuana (i.e. what gets you high from smoking pot.) The THC hardens and becomes a waxy substance, hence, “wax.” Wax can be smoked in a bong (as with ordinary marijuana) or can be “vaped” by placing wax into a vaporizer, such as an HK pen.


The result is a highly concentrated form of THC—whereas ordinary marijuana contains about 13% THC, wax can contain upwards of 60% to 80% THC. No doubt, this accounts for the popularity of wax—it is extremely potent, and likely the most powerful form of THC available.


Is Wax Any Different Than Ordinary Marijuana?


Well, yes. As noted above, it’s a more potent form of THC—pure THC, in fact—than ordinary pot is. That said, THC is in ordinary marijuana, albeit in smaller percentages. There is no additional ingredient, intoxicant, or other chemical present in wax that is not contained in ordinary marijuana—just far, far more of it.


But, to local law enforcement and the DEA, wax is a menace. While legally available in Colorado, law enforcement agencies (specifically, Gary Hill of the San Diego DEA’s office) have suggested wax can cause psychotic episodes and brain damage. There is not, to my knowledge, any significant medical study either refuting or supporting Agent Hill’s proposition.


This Sounds Familiar…


Back in the 1980’s, cocaine began to be “rocked up” into crack so that it could be smoked. The process takes powder cocaine, adds baking soda, distilled water, and heat, which produces a liquid form of cocaine which is then cooled into crystal-like “rocks.” The result is crack cocaine, which can be smoked, and therefore produces a quicker, more intense high than powder cocaine.


We all know what happened next: the DEA and local law enforcement quickly targeted crack, stories of “crack babies” and people eating other people’s faces off and such were spread, and the mandatory punishments for possessing significantly smaller amounts of crack cocaine carried sentences disproportionally harsh to possessing massive amounts of powder cocaine. (e.g. possession of 28 grams of crack cocaine carried a mandatory five year minimum federal sentence, whereas it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to prompt the same federal sentence.)




Is Wax Analogous to Crack in the 1980’s?


I am not a chemist or a doctor, and I barely made it through high school chemistry. But, it seems to me, that crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same thing, just in different material states.


By contrast, ordinary marijuana and wax both contain THC, just significantly different levels of THC—by most accounts, 13% versus upwards of 60%, respectively. Same ingredient, like crack and powder cocaine—just far more of it in wax.


Possessing 400 grams of wax in Texas carries a penalty of 5 to 99 or life in prison, and a fine of up to $50,000. 400 grams is 14.0196 ounces, just shy of a pound (16 ounces.) (I remind you here that a gram is roughly the weight of a paperclip.) A person would have to possess more than 2,000 pounds of ordinary marijuana to receive the same sentence. (And I remind you here that   2,000 pounds is a ton.) Obviously the sentences are disproportionate. This is not unlike the example for crack versus powder cocaine discussed above.


Perhaps the increased penalty for possession of wax seems justified: possession of THC is illegal federally and in Texas, and in less than half of states; wax contains significantly more THC than ordinary marijuana; therefore, possession of wax should be treated more harshly.


But, consider that ordinary marijuana is illegal for the reason that it contains THC. In Colorado, where marijuana is legal, so too is wax. So long as marijuana is illegal, wax is illegal as well. Where marijuana is legal, it logically follows that wax would be legal too. This point may seem rudimentary to the point of being a pointlessly banal. But why then is possessing wax treated so differently than possessing ordinary marijuana in states where both wax and marijuana are illegal? Some difference in treatment would make sense: wax contains more THC and THC is what makes marijuana illegal in Texas and in other states.


But is 14 ounces of wax really equal to more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana? And doesn’t possessing more than 2,000 pounds—literally, a ton—of marijuana raise some serious questions about trafficking, intent to distribute, delivery, engaging in organized criminal activity, etc. that possessing 14 ounces of wax does not?


Something to think about.