EL PASO, Texas - The rising popularity in vaping among teenagers has contributed to a sharp increase in THC possession arrests in El Paso, according to prosecutors.
"The numbers are so dramatic," said Emily Dawson, a spokeswoman for the El Paso County Attorney's Office.
In 2017, 16 minors under the age of 18 were arrested for possessing THC, according to the office. In 2018, 40 minors were arrested. In 2019, that number skyrocketed to 248 minors arrested.
"We want them to understand the severity of this offense," Dawson told ABC-7. "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."
When ABC-7 took a vaping device to meet students outside Burges High School, about half of the students admitted to recognizing the device. However, most did not know the consequences.
"Educate kids at a young age and tell them that this is bad," said Ranaiah Orr, a sophomore.
If a juvenile is convicted of a felony possession of THC, he or she could be on probation until they are 18 years old, Dawson explained. That could include an ankle monitor, house arrest, a 5 p.m. curfew and other consequences.
"This is not like smoking marijuana traditionally, which is a class B misdemeanor," explained Dawson. "This is a felony and this could have longterm consequences."
"Since it's like that, and it's a felony for this, you might as well just use a joint," said Stoney Christie, a junior.