British Columbia

Over $1M in illicitly produced drug 'shatter' seized from Richmond home following blast and fire

In July, fire and police raced to a house explosion and fire in Richmond. Now RCMP search warrant documents reveal a massive suspected drug lab was uncovered and at least $1 million in "shatter," a potent marijuana derivative, was found. It's one of the biggest seizures of shatter in Canadian history.

RCMP search warrant reveals potent marijuana derivative was cooked in 15 ovens, then hidden in pizza boxes

Three months after two explosions and a resulting fire, this Richmond home remains behind a fence and fire tape. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

When Richmond firefighters raced to an explosion and fire on a quiet cul-de-sac in July, they might have thought they had arrived at a burning pizzeria.

Inside a house on Calder Court, they found 15 ovens, stacks of pizza boxes, but no pizzas — just slabs of a strange translucent toffee-like substance.

No one was home.

Suspicious firefighters quickly called Richmond RCMP.

Now, police search warrant documents obtained by CBC News reveal the home was a suspected cannabis extraction lab — and the amber substance was "shatter," a relatively new cannabis concentrate with four to six times the potency of legal marijuana.

Twenty-five kilograms of the illicitly produced drug were seized, with an estimated street value of anywhere from $1.1 million to $2 million — making it one of the biggest seizures of shatter in Canadian history.

And then there were the cardboard boxes.

"[An investigator] entered the residence once the fire was out and observed large quantities of pizza boxes," notes the RCMP file. "Inside the multiple pizza boxes had an amber/ honey coloured substance believed to be shatter."

It's thought the pizza boxes were used as a cover to transport and deliver the drug to buyers.

A man holds a sheet of THC concentrate known as 'shatter' in Denver, Colorado. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

'Power supply ... compromised illegally'

While consumption of cannabis is legal in Canada — and shatter is sold online and in dispensaries — unauthorized production of shatter is not. Butane and propane, used as solvents to produce the resin-like extract, have been linked to explosions and deaths across the country.

According to organized crime unit investigators, the 15 ovens found in the Richmond home were used to "cook" the solvent-infused drug.

It was a recipe for disaster.

Fire investigators and police say the blaze at the suspected drug lab started in the home's two-car garage. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

"Fifteen ovens were set up in the residence for the cannabis operation," states the information used to obtain a search warrant. "The [home's] power supply from the electrical panel was compromised illegally with major changes to power all 15 ovens."

It's not clear if an electrical short sparked the fire. But the police documents say flames touched off two blasts, likely from exploding propane or compressed gas tanks.

Other drugs were also discovered — 50 kilograms of "shake" (cannabis leftovers), eight kilograms of cannabis bud, plus some heroin and hash oil — and two firearms were seized.

Shatter up to 6 times as potent as marijuana

According to cannabis community online sources, shatter was first developed in B.C. in the 1990s. In the past 10 years it has exploded in popularity across North America.

It gets its name from its brittle texture and thin sheets, which shatter like glass. It's also known as honey oil, budder and dabs.

Shatter is a derivative of marijuana, with a much greater concentration of THC, the ingredient in cannabis that produces a high. 

While most marijuana has a THC level of between 12 and 20 per cent, police say shatter has a THC level of 80 to 90 per cent. 

A sampling of shatter was on display at Edmonton police headquarters in May 2019. Police there said the production of the cannabis concentrate led to two explosions that month. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Users ingest it by heating a small amount of the extract and then inhaling the smoke, typically through a vaporizer pen. The process is known as "dabbing."

Police have warned that shatter can spark psychosis.

The drug reportedly goes for $45 to $80 per gram across Canada — approaching the cost of MDMA (ecstasy) and cocaine.

That would place the bulk street value of the Richmond haul between $1.1 million and $2 million.

Police say the investigation is ongoing.

No charges have been laid in the case.

Investigators are asking anyone who may have information to contact Richmond RCMP or Crime Stoppers.

 

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.

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