As American health officials continue to combat the country’s widespread vaping illness with research and regulations, one Texas police department has tried to prosecute their way out of the unexpected health crisis.
According to local ABC affiliate KVIA, El Paso, Texas police officers and prosecutors charged nearly 250 teenagers with felony cannabis possession — a whopping six times the city’s underage pot felony count in 2018. Far from a mystery, the exponential increase in cannabis arrests can be directly tied to a local law that criminalizes possession of THC vape cartridges much more seriously than dry leaf flower.
"We want them to understand the severity of this offense," El Paso County Attorney’s Office spokesperson Emily Dawson told KVIA. "Any time a child vapes and it is THC, it is automatically a penalty group 2, so it's automatically going to be a felony case."
As high potency vape cartridges grew rapidly in popularity over the past year across legal and prohibition states, El Paso cops and prosecutors attempted to discourage underage use with outlandishly strict punishment. But instead of clearing the city of cannabis vapes, cops were left with hundreds of felony cases against teens. El Paso recently passed an ordinance to help reduce the city’s cannabis arrest rate, but the new cite-and-release law apparently did not help minors in the area at all.
And for kids caught with a vape cartridge in their backpack or cargo pocket, the felony consequences can be dire. Minors with a felony record can face probation until they are 18, house arrest, curfews, and more severe punishments for subsequent run-ins with the law. But if you ask El Paso prosecutors, the discreet THC consumption devices are not just regular cannabis.
"This is not like smoking marijuana traditionally, which is a class B misdemeanor," Dawson said. "This is a felony and this could have long term consequences."
Dawson did not expound on what in particular makes THC vape cartridges so much worse than cannabis flower, but for local high schoolers, word of the increased legal punishment for pot vapes has not stopped cannabis use. Rather, it has inspired at least some teens to revert their pot consumption habits back to old school methods.
"Since it's like that, and it's a felony for this, you might as well just use a joint," Stoney Christie, a junior at El Paso’s Burges High School told KVIA.
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