Marijuana wax shows up among teens
An extra potent form of marijuana that has state and local authorities sounding an alarm is turning up in south Washington County.
“It’s an up-and-comer for our area,” said Sgt. Mike Benson, commander of the Washington County drug task force. “Now we’re seeing it with more regularity in the schools primarily. It’s very, very popular with the kids.”
The drug concerns law enforcement because of how it’s made, who’s using it and the relative ease with which it can be hidden — from parents and police. Its potency also is a concern.
“Marijuana wax is to marijuana like crack is to cocaine,” said Laurie Anderson, an assistant Washington County attorney who is among prosecutors handling wax cases. “It’s a more concentrated form.”
Whereas leaf marijuana may contain only 15 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, it is as high as 80 percent in wax. THC is the drug that causes the psychological effects of marijuana use.
“It’s a different, stronger, more powerful high for people,” said Jared Landkamer, a Cottage Grove police officer who worked narcotics and recently arrested someone for wax possession during a traffic stop. The drug is also known as butane hash oil.
The way it’s produced is dangerous too, for the manufacturer and sometimes for others. Wax is made by packing marijuana leaves and then straining liquid butane through the plant substance to extract THC. The butane from that strained liquid is removed in one of a few different ways, leaving a sticky, chunky substance with a high THC concentration.
Though fewer chemicals are involved, it’s not unlike the volatile, flammable process used to make methamphetamine.
“It’s similar to a meth lab,” Anderson said. “You’re basically soaking leaves in butane and applying heat, so you’re going to get an explosion if you’re not doing it right.”
That has occurred elsewhere in Minnesota, including a recent case in the St. Cloud area where teens allegedly making wax caused an explosion and fire that killed the grandmother of one of the teens.
Washington County authorities have not prosecuted anyone for manufacturing wax, but they are informing police of the ingredients used to make the drug.
Police said teens are among the biggest group of wax users. Wax can be smoked by itself, but teens are concealing it in electronic cigarettes, so marijuana odor is covered up by the scent of flavored e-cigarette cartridges. Kids are getting a strong high from a dab of wax when it may look and smell like they’re “vaping” from a fruit-flavored e-cigarette.
Cottage Grove police have nabbed a few people for wax possession in recent months, on the street and in schools. St. Paul Park police have run across wax too. There have been three wax possession cases there, two involving minors and the third an adult, St. Paul Park police Chief Mike Monahan said.
Benson, the sheriff’s commander, said the drug task force’s two recent drug-related search warrants involved the homes of people suspected of dealing to minors.
Police say far more people are using it than have been arrested.
“Kids are telling me it’s happening quite a bit,” said Pat Nickle, a Cottage Grove cop assigned as school resource officer at Park High School.
Nickle said he has caught one Park student with wax. It’s difficult to bust students for possession because wax is small and does not have the same scent that marijuana typically has, he added.
Wax is a problem in all area schools, not just in Cottage Grove and Woodbury, Benson said.
The small size does not lessen the severity of the offense. Possession of any amount of wax is a felony because it’s in the same schedule of narcotics as methamphetamine.
The maximum penalty for a fifth-degree controlled substance possession conviction is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The typical sentence for someone without any prior felony or drug convictions is probation and a stay of adjudication, meaning if they complete probation there will not be a conviction on their record. Defendants with prior drug convictions, however, face a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in jail for wax possession.
The Washington County Attorney’s Office has handled about a half-dozen wax possession cases, Anderson said.
Washington County authorities have discussed the increased use of wax by teens and young adults at recent community drug forums. They are trying to bring awareness to the drug, going so far as to offer to bring a drug-sniffing K-9 officer into homes at parents’ request.
If the canine finds wax in a kid’s bedroom, the sheriff’s office will take away the drug and will not seek charges against the teen, instead leaving the response to the parents. They just want it out of the hands of area youth.
“We want to get them off this crap now rather than deal with them after they graduate,” Benson said, noting wax could be a gateway to even more dangerous drugs.
“We’re invested in taking care of this on the front end,” he said.
Parents or others concerned about marijuana wax use can contact Sgt. Mike Benson of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 651-430-7854.