Seminole County students vaping THC will be arrested on felony charge

Officers have no choice but to arrest students, officials say

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – The Seminole County School District warned parents in a district-wide email Friday that deputies and police officers in schools must arrest students if they are caught with the drug THC, the illegal concentrated extract from marijuana.

The district wrote in an email:

"Dear SCPS Families,

"With the unfortunate trend of vaping and juuling amongst our youth today, we want to ensure our students and parents realize that any amount of THC in a vape or juul device is a felony.

"If a student is caught with this in their possession, neither the School nor the School Resource Officer/Deputy (SRO/SRD) has any other options or course of action but to charge a felony for this type of drug incident on a school campus.

"Under Florida Statute 893.13(6)(a), it is a felony to possess any amount of THC, a cannabis concentrate, even if the total weight of the cannabis concentrate containing the THC is less than twenty (20) grams.

"Cannabis concentrates are extracted from cannabis and contain a highly potent level of THC and come in many forms, such as cannabis wax, cannabis resin, cannabis oil, hashish oil, cannabis budder, and cannabis crumble. 

"The crime of Possession of Cannabis Concentrates in a Third Degree Felony and punishable by up to five years in prison, five years of probation, and a $5,000 fine. 

"Please share this information with your children to ensure they are aware of these consequences.
Thank you!"

Vape pens and Juul devices are two types of electronic cigarettes that vaporize nicotine, originally intended to wean adults off smoking.

Vape pens produce a visible vapor while most Juul devices do not.

Juul devices usually come in metal rectangular form. Often parents say they look like USB devices and many of the nicotine cartridges are scented.

Altamonte pPolice Cpl. Evelyn Estevez said that's intentional.

"The Juul, it looks like a USB, and as a parent I don't know that anyone's going to know what this is if they find it in their kid's bedroom or backpack," Estevez said. "The THC in the vape pens, they're masking the odor of traditional marijuana in the THC concentrate with fruity flavors and what that does is eliminate the odor."

The standard cartridge for a vape pen or Juul is filled with nicotine but cartridges filled with THC are easily obtainable, according to police, especially over the internet.

A Juul spokesman said the company is trying to prevent the sale of unathorized, Juul compatible products.

"JUUL Labs’ mission is to help improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by providing them with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. To accomplish our mission, we must restrict youth usage. That’s why taking swift and decisive action against counterfeit and infringing products is one of our key priorities," a spokesman said. "We will continue to take forceful actions and do what we can to stop these counterfeit and infringing products from flooding the markets. We will work with regulators, law enforcement and other key stakeholders to protect public health and combat youth access."

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared vaping among young people an epidemic.

"Now is the time to take action," Adams said. "We need to protect our young people from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes."

Florida law prohibits people under 18 from purchasing e-cigarettes. Minors caught with e-cigarettes face a ticket and a mandatory court appearance and possible suspension if caught on campus.

A Juul spokesman said the company is trying to combat usage among youths.

“JUUL Labs shares a common goal with policy makers, regulators, parents, school officials, and community stakeholders – preventing youth from initiating on nicotine. We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated. As we said before, our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products. We have taken dramatic action to contribute to solve this problem, which is why we implemented the JUUL Labs Action Plan to address underage use of JUUL products," company officials said.

Getting caught with THC is much more serious and potentially life-altering.

"Law enforcement is not going to have a choice," Estevez said. "What the law says is that THC concentrate constitutes a third-degree felony. Doesn't matter the amount, it's not the traditional flower marijuana you're used to seeing. When you talk about felony -- as an adult, you know that when you fill out applications, whether it's college or employment -- they talk about these, have you ever been charged with a felony, it's a pretty serious thing, it's not something you're just going to deal with as a juvenile." 

Seminole wouldn't immediately say how many students were caught with THC and/or expelled or arrested, but statistics from earlier this year released by Seminole County show last school year the district had 54 tobacco-related suspensions. As of Feb. 1,  the district had 44. 

Last year, Orange County Schools had 109 suspensions for tobacco possession. As of Feb. 1, the district had 123 tobacco-related suspensions, with months still to go in the school year.

In Brevard, 60 students this year alone were caught with THC and expelled or transferred to alternative schools.

Even getting caught with an empty vape device can earn students a $55 citation and a Saturday class in Brevard County schools. They could also lose their license.

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