NAUGATUCK — Police broke up what they called a drug factory in the Union City section Wednesday night.
Nicholas Ayotte, 31, and Ashton Palomba, 28, who are roommates at 68 Anderson St., first floor, are accused of extracting marijuana for its potent chemicals and were charged with numerous drug-related crimes.
Police executed a search warrant at the house just before 6 p.m. Wednesday. Inside, they found marijuana, butane, glass tubes, glass baking pans, wax paper, rolls of cash, digital scales and other items consistent with what police said is an operation to make butane hash oil, or BHO. It is marijuana concentrate that contains extraordinarily high tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, levels that could range from 40 percent to 80 percent, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
BHO can be up to four times stronger than high-grade or top-shelf marijuana, which normally measures around 20 percent THC levels, according to the DEA. BHO has become more common over the past five years, particularly as people smoke it in electronic cigarettes for a nearly instant high.
Police began investigating the local operation in July. In that time, police said, Ayotte posted a photo of hash oil on his Instagram account and talked about purging, a term used to describe a process in creating BHO. He also talked on social media about attending a seminar in Maine on extracting hash oil. Police were monitoring those accounts.
When interviewed by police, Ayotte said he never sold drugs and maintained he was only a user, according to a police report. He also went into detail about how it takes high-end equipment to make BHO, and that he didn’t have access to that equipment.
When police told him they had seen him make drug sales and that someone had bought drugs from him with marked Naugatuck Police Department bills, he admitted to “selling BHO to some people,” according to court records. He told police he was struggling financially because he had not had any consistent work lately. He listed on court paperwork that he is self-employed as a security guard in Waterbury.
His girlfriend, Brandi Papp, 22, was living with him for the past three weeks, and Ayotte told police she had nothing to do with it.
Palomba said he brought back marijuana from California for personal use and that all the blame for the drugs should be put on him.
Police believe they were using butane to extract the THC from the cannabis plant. The DEA states the process of heating butane and creating a gas has caused violent explosions across the country.
Ayotte and Palomba were charged with possession of more than 4 ounces of a controlled substance, possession with intent to sell, possession within a school zone, possession with intent to sell within a school zone, operating a drug factory, possession of drug paraphernalia and conspiracy at all charges. They were held on $50,000 bonds.
Papp was charged with possession of more than 4 ounces of a controlled substance, possession in a school zone, conspiracy at possession of more than four ounces of a controlled substance, conspiracy at possession within a school zone and possession of drug paraphernalia. She was held on a $25,000 bond.