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Police find large-scale hash oil-making plant in Cotati

Police discovered a large hash-oil manufacturing operation at a Cotati business park Friday, seizing hundreds of pounds of marijuana, gallons of hash oil and expensive equipment.

Officers were still looking for Joseph Gallagher, 34, of Sebastopol, who they suspect was making the cannabis derivative at the business, Cotati Police Lt. Bill French said.

Police began investigating activities at the two-story suite behind a roll-up door on Aaron Street last week, acting on a tip received from the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department.

Officers aided by a Sonoma County sheriff’s narcotics detective, officers from Rohnert Park police, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Rancho Adobe Fire Department entered the business at about 10 a.m., French said.

One of two rooms constructed inside the business housed a large carbon dioxide compressor worth more than $130,000 used to strip THC from marijuana leaves, also called shake, to make hash oil, according to police. An upstairs room was full of pots and pans, double boilers, jars and other equipment - much of it coated in sticky residue - used to process and package the oil. Half-gallon Mason jars full of the sticky orange substance filled a refrigerator.

The compressor was remarkable for its size - about an 8-foot-long and 6-foot-wide device of coils and valves that took about a half-hour to disconnect, French said.

“It’s the largest operation any of us have seen,” he said.

The method using carbon dioxide to make hash oil is less toxic than those that use butane gas or isopropyl alcohol, yet the pressure required to extract THC is nonetheless dangerous, according to French.

“It’s very dangerous and it puts people and nearby businesses at risk,” French said.

The suite is in a commercial district west of Highway 101 near other small businesses that range from a frame shop and food distribution company to construction firms and auto shops.

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