Hobbs Municipal schools are currently dealing with an epidemic that involves children vaping and using marijuana in unprecedented amounts, HMS Superintendent Gene Strickland said.
Hobbs High School Principal Alfredo Turrubiates said the high school is finding “large amounts” of cannabis and non-cannabis related products in student’s possession and he attributed this increase to the legalization of marijuana.
“We have seen a significant increase in students being in possession of marijuana while at school since cannabis was legalized in comparison to last year’s numbers,” Turrubiates said.
Prior to legalization, HMS had a total of 150 cannabis infractions for the year.
In the year 2022, since legalization, HMS had 143 infractions for the months of August and September alone.
What’s even scarier, according to Strickland, is the fact that it’s not just high school aged students who are getting caught with marijuana products.
They’ve also seen it at the elementary level as well.
“Unfortunately, we had a third-grader, 10-year-old, in possessions of a vape that had a THC cartridge in it a little over a month or so ago. When we made contact with the parent and the parent came up to the school, the parent told the child, ‘I told you not to bring it to school, you’re going to get me in trouble.’ That tells me that that parent is allowing that to happen at home,” Strickland said. “It is now easier for someone to purchase a vape than a pack of cigarettes.”
Besides the 10-year-old getting caught with cannabis, middle school, freshman, and high school students are also consuming and selling both THC and non-THC products.
So where is it they are getting the products from?
According to Turrubiates, the students are getting them from one of three places: parents, friends, or smoke shops.
“We caught two girls in the bathroom vaping and one of them was trying to hide it. Sure, 50 percent of (the vapes) test positive for nicotine, the others, are testing positive for THC. We began talking to one of those kids, and the impact regarding what we are seeing here in the office,” Turrubiates said. “She ended up telling us where she got it from, which was someone on campus.
“That girl said, ‘You know what, I don’t want that to happen to anybody else. You guys should know, everyone here on campus knows who the kid is.’ That girl gave us the information of the kid and we went and got that kid and brought him into the office. We searched him. We found package, after package, after package of one kind, none nicotine, and all THC. Even rolled up joints and a wad of cash.”
That someone, according to an HPD incident report, was arrested on Nov. 3 after school officials found the 15-year-old in possession of several THC cartridges and joints.
The student had in his possession eight marijuana vapes he was allegedly selling, along with one pre-rolled marijuana joint. He said he sold each vape for $20-$30 each and sold the pre-rolled joint for $15.
In a second incident, which happened at the Hobbs Freshman High school in October, a 15-year-old student was caught with a pre-rolled marijuana joint, several empty boxes of nicotine and THC electronic cigarettes, and $117 cash. The student allegedly admitted to selling the electronic cigarettes on campus.
Depending upon the offense, the student gets suspended for a first time possession offense and is referred to a drug program through the Community Drug Coalition. If the student if found to be distributing, the penalty is much greater. The student, for distribution, can face expulsion or be sent to the Alternative Learning Center for a year’s time.
School officials said the vaping and cannabis problems are twofold.
Police and HMS staff know where students are buying the products, but the city is not clear about enforcement of existing law that bars minors from buying cannabis products.
“The City of Hobbs just became aware of (these shops selling to minors and selling cannabis products) a couple of months. The school shared the increase of utilization of THC and edibles and all those type of things. We were approached a couple of months ago and we handle the enforcement aspect of that,” Hobbs City Manager Manny Gomez said. “There are some smoke shops that are selling to minors. We found a violation to our business ordinance and the state statute. What we then do, per Chapter 5 of our business ordinance, we issue and can revoke a business license. The enforcement aspect of it is, two options: if someone doesn’t have a business registration or doesn’t pay it, one, it’s illegal, and in this incident or case, we can file an injunction to district court and then administratively can pull a business registration license. That is just the city’s business registration license. But, when I say just, there is also a state license and state requirement. When we find a violation to any city or state law, there is a penalty we can charge them with.”
That penalty, per Hobbs City code is a misdemeanor and a fine of $500 or imprisonment for 90 days, or both. Each day the violation is committed or permitted to continue shall constitute a separate offense.
The section of Hobbs City Code dealing with cannabis says: “Licensees shall abide by all applicable state laws and regulations promulgated thereunder, and any specific additional operating procedures or requirements which may be imposed as a condition of approval of the cannabis business permit.
Furthermore, “Pursuant to the Hobbs Municipal Code Section 1.16.010, the maximum penalty for violation of any municipal ordinance is a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) or imprisonment for not more than ninety (90) days or both, unless a lesser maximum penalty or a specific penalty is established for a particular offense.”
According to Gomez, “What we (the city) are doing now, is once we are able to receive the letter that has been requested from the school (which states what administrators were told by students and when they were told), then that will be forwarded with the complaint to (the Cannabis Control Division and Attorney General’s Office) who will respond. …(if these shops are found guilty regarding the sale of cannabis without a license) it would be a civil violation. In reading the state statute, it talks about the CCD shall suspend or revoke the license and may fine the business, not to exceed $10,000 and that’s for knowingly, selling, serving, the cannabis products to anyone under 21.”
The N.M. Cannabis Control Division public information officer, Bernice Geiger said via email, “If a licensed establishment sells to a minor, they would be subject to the Cannabis Control Divisions administrative disciple, subject to 10,000 fine and possible suspension/revocation of a license.
She pointed to the state law, which states: “If an establishment is unlicensed, it is a criminal penalty, and could be punishable by misdemeanor, or if they hold themselves to be a licensed establishment could be a fourth-degree felony enforceable by local law enforcement or state police.
“A person under eighteen years of age who violates Subsection B of this section shall be subject to: (1) attendance at a four-hour evidence-based drug education and legal rights program at no cost to the person; or (2)four hours of community service.
“D. Except as otherwise provided in Section 14 [26-2C-14 NMSA 1978] of the Cannabis Regulation Act, a person eighteen years of age or older who violates Subsection B of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor. .…
“E. A person eighteen years of age or older who violates Subsection B of this section and who conducts unlicensed cannabis product sales from a building, room or other area open to the public in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the area is a cannabis establishment licensed pursuant to the Cannabis Regulation Act is guilty of a fourth degree felony.”
The State of New Mexico, as the licensing agency, is responsible for enforcing the Cannabis Regulatory Act.
Which Strickland said is “grossly understaffed.”
“The Cannabis Control Division of New Mexico is – for a state our size – to have the revenue that we have and the volume that we have, to have five staff members state wide, is absurd,” he said.
He added, “We are ignoring the implications of what cannabis is doing to our community. Right now, we believe as a state, because of the way they legalized cannabis, there are no long term effects of marijuana use. I don’t believe that to be true. Long term cannabis consumption is damaging period. And then you layer on top of that the additional chemicals in a vape pen, the vape cartridges are at such a high concentration content, that a single hit could cause a student to go into convulsions and seizures. There’s no ramifications saying this is not ok. Would we support or endorse, as a society, alcohol content to be consumed at any point during the day by individuals as young as 10-years-old? And it be a civil infraction. I don’t believe we would.”
The second issue, with the substance being legal, is parents are allowing their children to use the products without knowing the dangers of what their children are using.
“The legalization of recreational cannabis has had a significant impact on our educational setting. The year prior to the legalization, we had 150 for the year, in terms of cannabis infractions, discipline wise at the high school. This year, August and September, we had 143,” Strickland said. “We have to continue to educate not only our students, but our parents and community that it is illegal for individuals under 21. Some of the conversations we’ve had, with parents, who for whatever reason believe that it is ok for their child to consume cannabis because it’s legal, we ask them if alcohol is legal and they say no. We say cannabis carries the exact same age restrictions that alcohol does. It’s frustrating that that’s an uphill battle that we’re having to fight in terms of the education piece and folks knowing what is legal and what is not.”
According to school officials, the problems they are running into is students getting caught with both THC and non-THC products, students selling to one another, using the vapes in the restrooms, passing the vapes to one another in class and outside of class, different shops selling the products to minors, and the students hiding them in ways that could only be described as being similar to a jail setting.
“It’s getting so bad that, we’re checking the bathrooms constantly. We don’t have enough staff to be designated to just check the restrooms so things that we’re hearing from kids is somebody leaves something (a vape) in there for when another person walks in. …this is our epidemic. It’s continually impacting the rest of my student population here (who are doing the right thing),” Turrubiates said. “It’s not 18-year-olds who are selling these for the most part, it’s 10th and 11th graders. We’ve had to call the ambulance twice now for kids who took a hit of something that we believe was laced and they are pale as can be. They’re going in and out of consciousness and puking. Their temperature is so low the nurses can’t get a read because they’re so cold their lips turn purple and pale. The nurses can’t even take their pulses. As we’re calling 911 and the ambulance is en route, they’re deciding on whether or not to give them Narcan. It’s a pandemic in the sense of drug infestation in the schools.”
Turrubiates said for parents to be on the look-out for any products such as edibles or vapes, which have a THC or marijuana leaf emblem on them, and hoodies which have what looks like a straw tip on it that connects to the vape.