THC vaping ‘an epidemic’ in schools as legal Cannabis market gives easy access to hemp
Easy access to hemp-based products has escalated an “epidemic” of vaping at Texas schools.
After lawmakers approved hemp products in 2019, gummies and vape cartridges have appeared in gas stations, smoke shops and wellness stores. But some of the products are testing positive for marijuana.
That means students caught with the vape pens must be sent to alternative education.
When students are caught with marijuana, including in vape form, they must be removed from class and put into a disciplinary alternative education program.
Rory Gesch, a deputy superintendent in the Alvin school district near Houston, told lawmakers he sees an estimated 50 to 85 vaping cases each month on a single campus.
“The increase in the THC vapes and the vaping in general has just become an epidemic,” he said at the April 11 hearing.
Gesch was testifying in support of a proposal by Rep. Ed Thompson that would remove a mandatory expulsion requirement for students caught with the products. Thompson, a Pearland Republican, told lawmakers during the hearing that he’s heard of alternative education programs being “overrun” with students who, under current law, must be kicked out and sent to one of the alternative campuses for using marijuana.
“School administrators are faced with a tough, tough choice of whether to take action and significantly interrupt a student’s academic process or look the other way and hope it doesn’t become a bigger problem,” Thompson said.
Thompson declined an interview through a spokesperson. The bill passed out of the House 145-2 but hasn’t been heard in Senate committee.
Some school districts in North Texas say they, too, have seen students with delta-8, delta-9 and other cannabis-based products that can produce a high.
Tim Ulrich, a school resource officer at Keller High School, said he’s had 15 instances of students caught vaping the THC products. He estimated he has found 20 to 50 of the vape devices around the school.
Ulrich said he’s sent confiscated products off for testing and they return above the legal limit for delta-9, the chemical component most commonly associated with marijuana. Under state law, products with more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC by weight are considered illegal marijuana. Less than that and they are legal hemp.
Ulrich said he is concerned by a lack of quality control.
“You don’t know what you’re getting,” he said.
The Arlington school district said it has not seen a rise in the use of delta 8, but acknowledged it can be found in vape shops throughout the community, said Kevin McKinney, a district intervention specialist. A spokesperson for Eagle Mountain-Saginaw said the district hasn’t seen delta products in the schools.
In the Fort Worth school district, officials don’t know what specific strain of delta is in the product, but the district does record THC or marijuana-related offenses. The district as seen 202 of those this year, and most cases involve vaping products rather than the marijuana plant itself, according to its Student Support Services division.
North Texas school resource officers interviewed by the Star-Telegram said it’s standard practice to refer cases in which students are caught with a substance that tests positive for THC to the district attorney.
Teens have been arrested for having what may be legal hemp in vape pens, according to The Texas Tribune. That is a state jail felony since THC concentrate carries a stiffer penalty than being caught with the plant itself.
Some prosecutors in Texas have opted not to pursue low-level marijuana offenses and some cities have moved toward decriminalization of marijuana.
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office declined to comment.
State Rep. Ramon Romero, a Fort Worth Democrat, said it is mostly teens using the delta products.
“I don’t want to see more kids go to jail or ruin their record or their potential futures by way of smoking any of these products,” he said. “There are some easier things I wish we would have done.”
He suggested limiting the sale of the products within a certain distance of schools. Another idea is not allowing convenience stores to sell the delta products at the front of the shops.
“The fact that they have them right at the door, as soon as you walk in, it’s like here’s all these products,” he said. “It’s in your face.”