Sgt. Dave Bianchi sets a bag of chocolates onto a table at Omaha police headquarters.

The narcotics detective isn’t handing out treats to his colleagues. He’s showing off the latest, tastiest ways to get high.

“It looks like a chocolate, a cookie or a chunk of candy,” Bianchi said. The marijuana-infused edibles, he said, allow people to “use marijuana, but be discreet about it.”

The edibles are becoming more common in the Omaha area, especially over the past year, Bianchi said. He suspects some Nebraskans decided to make their own pot products after visiting neighboring Colorado, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2012 and began allowing retail sales in January 2014.

The process involves extracting THC — the high-inducing substance in marijuana — putting it into a wax, butter or oil, then cooking with it.

Bianchi said that when ingested, the effect typically is a stronger, more controlled high than the ones achieved by smoking a joint or using a water pipe. Edibles are most popular among high school and college students, he said.

But it’s not all fun and games. In Nebraska, putting THC into another form makes it a controlled substance and therefore a felony, punishable by prison. Compare that to possessing less than an ounce of marijuana in its plant form, which is a misdemeanor and usually results in a ticket and a $300 fine.

An Omaha man arrested last week was accused of making THC candies and selling them to his friends and family. The 31-year-old was taken into custody after narcotics and patrol officers responded to a marijuana complaint at a northwest Omaha apartment. The man is charged with two counts of possessing a controlled substance, both felonies, and is facing up to 50 years in prison.

Extracting THC from pot leaves is not only illegal, it’s dangerous, Bianchi said. The process involves using butane or another flammable oil, which poses the risk of explosion. In May, two men were burned while extracting hash oil at an Omaha home. Bianchi said he didn’t know what they were planning to do with it.

“People don’t realize that the production process is dangerous,” said Dr. Ron Kirschner, the medical director of the Nebraska Regional Poison Center. “They read on the Internet how to do this. My guess is, a lot of websites don’t really put an emphasis on safety.”

Kirschner said THC-laced cookies and candy also pose a risk to children.

Earlier this year, Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora reported a surge in the number of kids treated for marijuana ingestion. Kirschner said he wasn’t aware of any cases in Nebraska.

In small children, Kirschner said, THC can cause respiratory problems severe enough to require that the child be placed on a ventilator until the drug wears off.

THC wax, butter or oil also can be used to make personal products, such as lip balm and lotions. Bianchi said a person probably won’t get stoned using topically applied THC, but it’s another way that some people may try to use marijuana without police or anyone else being the wiser.

“You’re putting it on your skin, not ingesting it,” said Lacey Moore, a retail associate at The Green Solution, a marijuana dispensary in Edgewater, Colorado. “But you wouldn’t want to get a drug test (afterward).”

Moore said people often pick edibles and balms over traditional forms of marijuana because they worry about the smell or the health risks associated with smoking it.

Topically applied THC has a calming effect, Moore said, and often is used by people who suffer from anxiety or have trouble sleeping.

“For everybody, the products have a different reaction, just like anything,” she said.

Bianchi said Colorado’s marijuana legalization has helped give Omahans access to higher-quality marijuana from which to extract THC. In the past, users were stuck smoking “ditch weed” imported from Mexico. 
In Omaha, pot sold on the street typically contains THC levels of 12 to 18 percent, Bianchi said. In comparison, he said, extracted THC for edibles can contain levels as high as 58 to 82 percent. The treats also are more expensive on the street than regular marijuana — as much as several hundred dollars per batch of cookies or candy.

“It’s like how you can buy a $10 box of wine or a $50 bottle of wine,” Bianchi said. “The people we’ve come across, the customer market here likes a quality product.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-3100, maggie.obrien@owh.com

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