Parents, grandparents and caregivers need to be aware of a growing problem youth are facing today. The rise in tetrahydrocannabinol oil vaping. According to the El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department, the number of youths between the ages of 10 and 16 charged with THC possession increased from 16 cases in 2017 to a frightening 248 cases in 2019.
Why is the increase in THC possession so frightening? People caught in possession of THC in Texas may face felony charges, which could lead to fines, probation or jail time. In some cases, parents also can be charged and punished. According to Emily Dawson, assistant county attorney and Juvenile Unit Trial Team chief, “youth need to understand that a FELONY drug conviction or adjudication can affect their future life changes including; college acceptance, military recruitment, scholarship applications, employment, residency status, etc.”
THC oil is made from the marijuana (cannabis) plant. It is usually a thick and sticky oil with a golden or brown color that is typically found in glass “cartridges” about 2-inches long. Some people refer to this substance as “wax, butter or shatter.”
Unfortunately, the latest vape devices have a stealth look. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers need to pay close attention to everyday objects youths may carry, such as USB drives, pens, hooded sweatshirts and even watches. Vape devices can look like any of these items and they can be used to vape THC without anyone noticing.
The health risks associated with THC vaping cannot be ignored. As of Dec. 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 48 deaths in 25 states and Washington, D.C., and a total of 2,291 people hospitalized due to e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injuries.
Legal consequences associated with THC possession can include:
• For youths under 17 years of age, loss of freedoms, including 5 p.m. curfew, house arrest, electronic (ankle) monitoring, intensive supervised probation, or even commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department or a residential treatment center.
• Individuals who are 17 years old or older could serve 180 days to two years of jail time for possession of less than 1 gram or two to 10 years of jail time for possession of 1 to 4 grams. A standard THC cartridge typically holds 1 gram.
Middle and high school years are a special time for youths. Let’s work together to help ensure that they are involved in healthful activities and always have a trusted adult to talk with about serious problems. Take time to have a conversation with them about the growing problem of THC vaping. To help with the conversation, the Paso del Norte Health Foundation and the El Paso Behavioral Health Consortium developed informational resources about the health and legal dangers of THC vaping. These resources can be downloaded from healthypasodelnorte.org/thcvaping.
Enrique Mata is a senior program officer for the Paso del Norte Heath Foundation. He leads the Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being Priority Area.