Oquedo and Atmos' president, Charly Benassayag, declined to comment for this article. "We can't be associated with what you are writing about," Oquedo said. "Our products are for tobacco only."

Mario, a tall graphic artist with a beard that would shame Paul Bunyan, slides his hands into a pair of black latex gloves and digs his fingers into a blue glass bowl containing a savory pot salad of OG Kush, Grand Daddy Purp, and Girl Scout cookies. On a Tuesday morning in early September, the onetime New York resident hunches over his wooden coffee table while meticulously crushing green, orange, and purple buds mixed with leaves and stems.

"This is roughly 60 grams of shake and popcorn buds from different strains grown outdoors in California," Mario says. "I'm doing this run for some friends who had some leftovers. Right now I am breaking up the smaller buds so everything is the same consistency."

All that is left is the sticky, oily substance known as BHO.
Jacob Katel
All that is left is the sticky, oily substance known as BHO.
Mario heats the titanium disk where he will "dab" his oil, converting it to vapor that he'll inhale.
Jacob Katel
Mario heats the titanium disk where he will "dab" his oil, converting it to vapor that he'll inhale.

Mario is a "chef," or someone who makes BHO. He's been "blasting" (making the oil) for almost two years. Across the nation, except in Colorado, hundreds of chefs such as Mario risk arrest for operating drug labs. Mario clandestinely cooks weekday mornings, when most of his neighbors are at work and their children in school.

Profit makes it worth taking the chance. In California and Colorado, a gram of dabs runs $25 to $30, but dealers in Miami charge $50 to $80 for the same amount.

Mario stuffs the weed into an aluminum tube and walks onto the front patio, enclosed by a six-foot-high wooden fence.

He injects butane into the tube, and a few seconds later, a clear yellowish liquid begins to drip onto the pan as two portable fans circulate air around the patio. "I just make it for myself and my friends," he says. "I'm not a large-scale operation — certainly not high-tech."

Mario has certainly perfected his method since trying wax for the first time in the summer of 2011. "A friend made some of the shittiest oil ever," he recalls. "At the time, neither of us knew the right process of extracting all the butane."

Mario spent the next three months learning from chefs in California, Colorado, and Washington. "I sought people who had been making it for a while and bothered the shit out of them," he says. "They were willing to help me out and share their knowledge."

Another Miami oil chef, Marley, a heavyset, sandy-blond man in his late 20s, began dabbing in 2010. He started making hash oil about nine months ago. "There are so many dab enthusiasts on Instagram. I would just go on people's [images] and read what they were posting," he says. "I do hashtag searches for '#dabs,' '#dabsofinstagram,' and '#dabbersdaily.' I even found pointers with '#vacuumpump.' "

Since they began making their own dabs, Mario and Marley rarely smoke trees now. "A heavy smoker like me is packing bowl after bowl," Marley says. "I'll do one dab and I'm high for four hours, at least."

Adds Mario, who has used marijuana since age 14: "For me, wax is a cleaner, healthier product. There is no leaf matter, which still produces tar. "

On a quiet residential street about a half-block from St. Petersburg High School, rain pelted the red-brick exterior of a garage converted into a one-bedroom apartment. Inside, Antonio Cortes and Robert Belize stood over an electric kitchen stove. Belize's girlfriend chilled in the bedroom. One of the 22-year-old men was attempting to make hash oil using low-grade hardware-store butane to pour the hash liquid into a Pyrex dish sitting on a hot burner.

Suddenly, the room went white. A thunderous explosion blew out the windows as two interior walls buckled. Cortes and Belize ran through the open front door, their bodies covered in burns.

Justin Washington, a 17-year-old junior at St. Petersburg High, was in a house next door. "It was a very loud boom," Washington recalls. "It sounded like a car's gas tank exploded."

A few minutes later, two fire trucks and a team of firefighters in hazmat suits rushed through the narrow alley as smoke billowed from the doorway. While paramedics tended to Cortes and Belize, who sustained first- and second-degree burns on their arms, legs, and upper torsos, St. Petersburg deputy fire marshal Lt. Joel Granata found no evidence of a fire.

A 20-year fire veteran and arson investigator with a granite chin and blue eyes, Granata says the 360-square-foot apartment looked like someone had detonated a concussion bomb. "We focused on the kitchen," he recalls. "The top of the stove had been blown off, and the burners were in disarray. There was also a big hole in the ceiling right above the stove."

Initially, no one talked. "None of them were telling us the truth," Granata says. "I found some marijuana buds inside a mug next to the stove. I then found empty cans of butane in the garbage and on the floor."

This has got to be drug-related, Granata thought. Soon, Belize's girlfriend cracked. "She told us they were watching a video on YouTube on how to make hashish oil," he says. "We found a glass extractor and other empty cans in a nearby dumpster. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place."

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I'm a dead soldier now that I've got COPD, but I've smoked pure Shiva Crystals that wouldn't do what this lightweight says one hit of that stuff did to him. I smoked grams and grams at a time and never did my hands tingle or did I mutter unintelligible sentences. Ate a lot of Super Golden Crisp though. Try to keep it real when describing your highs will ya', you'll scare the children. 


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