LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - At first glance, it may look like a bag of Hot Cheetos.
However, if a parent looks closely at the product in the photo, the bag has a white box in the bottom right corner that indicates the product has 600 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana.
"I was shocked," said Fairacres Elementary parent Santana Rodriguez as she inspected the small differences between the original label and the altered label. "When I saw this, it blew my mind. I couldn’t believe it."
“It is concerning," said Officer Jason Sauceda, a school resource officer in Las Cruces Public Schools. "Parents just need to be more present in our kids’ lives and be more aware of what they’re doing.”
Can you spot the difference between a regular bag of Hot Cheetos and a THC-infused version from the black market? "It is alarming," a police spokesman admitted. https://t.co/isFyCclkQU pic.twitter.com/u1vl9WSA1R— Kate Bieri KVIA ABC-7 (@KateBieri) May 11, 2022
Sauceda told ABC-7 that drug cases in schools have increased by 28% since marijuana sales started on April 1st.
However, the THC-infused snacks that resemble popular brands are not legal in New Mexico. The state of New Mexico does not allow marijuana products with branding that appeals to children, according to the Cannabis Control Division. Cartoons and brand names are also prohibited on products that have THC.
If one looks closely at the bottom righthand corner of the bags, a label reads "CA," which could indicate that they were produced in California.
In a quick online search, one can find numerous online companies selling what appears to be products infused with THC under the "Hot Cheeto" name. For example, this website sells "Hot Crunchy Cheetos 600mg THC" for $25.
At Sol Cannabis, co-owners Brett Burke and Kwamé Ponschock sell edibles that are regulated by the state, clearly labeled and difficult for children to open. They were alarmed to learn that THC-infused snacks were circulating in the public schools.
"It was pretty wild to see," Burke said. “I would hate to see someone on the black market ruin it for the rest of us.”
"It's a shame that it's out there," Ponschock said. "The fact that it's getting to kids is actually heartbreaking."
They defended cannabis grown legally in New Mexico, which they describe as regulated and safe for adults over the age of 21 to consume.
"We're trying to follow the rules," Burke said. "We want to make sure we're keeping it out of the hands of those that are not qualified to have this product. It's something that we take pride in."
ABC-7 Photojournalist Heriberto Perez contributed to this report.