More kids using vape pens to smoke pot, police warn

Published: Feb. 27, 2019 at 5:22 PM CST
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A lot of questions are being asked after 18-year-old Federico Abarca was shot and killed February 22 in Green Bay over what prosecutors and police now say was a planned robbery of THC vape cartridges.

Four young men -- Jared Williquette, Gavin Rock, Colton Keho and Jarid Stevens -- are in custody and facing probable homicide charges in connection to his death.

Until this murder, many people have told Action 2 News they never heard of marijuana vaping, so we started looking into it and discovered it is very recently becoming very popular in Northeast Wisconsin.

The Brown County Drug Task Force says investigators have started seeing a lot more of these THC vape cartridges in just the last month.

Investigators say the people mainly looking for or using them are teenagers.

"Just the way it's packaged, it's not for adults. It's packaged to attract a younger group to it," says Brown County Drug Task Force Lt. Kevin Kinnard.

He shared pictures of marijuana vape cartridges his investigators seized in the last few weeks.

Kinnard says they look much like cartridges used to smoke nicotine, but instead often contain butane hash oil or BHO, usually brown or tan in color.

He says the packages they're finding in Wisconsin appear to be packaged and purchased on the West Coast, in states where marijuana is legal, but they are brought here and sold illegally.

It's the information on those packages that raises alarms.

"Typically organic or basically plant-material marijuana is 20-25 percent THC concentration in high grade," says Kinnard. "Those packages we're seeing and seizing here in Brown County are saying anywhere from 90-95 percent THC."

He equates smoking one THC cartridge to smoking three or four joints at the same time, causing psychotic episodes and odd behaviors among teens with developing brains.

"It depends on the person, depends on their tolerance level. What we have seen in the past is the emergency rooms are telling us they have people presenting with psychotic episodes, just because you're ingesting so much of the drug so quickly, all at once," he explains.

The FDA calls e-cigarette use among teens an "epedmic," with the CDC reporting teen use increasing about 80 percent in one year, but it's a National Youth Tobacco Survey causing concern. That survey shows using vape pens or e-cigs to ingest THC or marijuana is increasing dramatically.

But Kinnard says parents or teachers may not even know it's happening, because it doesn't have that typical "skunky" smell of raw marijuana.

In fact, he says it's mostly odorless.

The Partnership for Drug Free Kids says vaping marijuana can cause bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, thirst, increased appetite and mood swings, among other symptoms.

But because it isn't as easily detectable as raw marijuana, Kinnard suggests, "I think the most important thing is to talk to your kids about it and explain the dangers of it to them."

Kinnard says cartridges are sold here for about $30 to $50 apiece, in demand as drug investigators and Green Bay Police both say they are seeing more and more reports of teens using vape pens to smoke pot.

And after the homicide last week over those THC cartridges, Kinnard says parents should be -- and are -- taking notice.

"Just a super sad example of a young kid loses his life over four vape cartridges. Just stupid."