Mar. 4—HARLINGEN — Police are working off tips, building “multiple” cases after the department’s new crackdown on THC-derived drugs led to the arrest of a Harlingen man facing several felony charges.
Last month, the Harlingen Police Department launched the Youth Safety and Drug Intervention Unit, aiming to arrest dealers of illegal THC oil and other marijuana-derived drugs from sellers in states where the drugs are legal.
“We’ve had people come forward. We’ve had people cooperate and give us information,” Sgt. Larry Moore, the department’s spokesman, said. “We have a task force working. We are working on a lot of information. From the information we’re gathering, we are working multiple cases right now and there will be arrests down the line.”
In a news conference last month, police Chief Michael Kester announced the crackdown stemming from the THC vaping craze has led to “increasing numbers of juveniles being the victims of shootings or other violent acts due to the illicit drug market” during the last couple of years .
Teenagers are using cash apps to buy THC-based drugs ranging from oils and pastes to edibles from states like California and Colorado, where the drug is legal, then using social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger to sell the drugs here, officials said.
In Texas, drugs containing more than 0.3% THC are illegal, Moore said.
In Cameron County, District Attorney Luis Saenz is stepping up his campaign against the drugs, warning dealers are targeting teenagers, pointing to a case in which a “criminal enterprise” stealing THC oil cartridges shot to death a 16-year-old Santa Rosa boy .
“It’s a very serious problem we are being challenged with, especially when it comes to high school kids,” Saenz said during an interview. “It’s a growing problem across the districts. It’s the trend now with that age group. These vaping pens they’re making are marketed to kids. They have it on campus — they go to the bathroom, go to an isolated area and start vaping .”
Saenz warned convictions could destroy teenagers’ lives.
“Before they leave high school, they get indicted,” he said. “They have no criminal history, they make good grades, they’re high school athletes and now everything he’s been working on is jeopardized. It’s very problematic on a personal level. It creates a burden on society because you’ve got someone unemployable. “
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering downgrading the possession of THC oil from a felony to a misdemeanor, Saenz said.
Across the county, authorities are searching for Alberto Sanchez, believed to be 19 or 20, in connection with the Jan. 26 shooting death of Fernando Martinez, 16, of Santa Rosa.
So far, authorities, offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to Sanchez’s arrest, have made three arrests in the case linked to a gang made up of 18- and 19-year-olds targeting dealers selling vaping pipes and THC oil cartridges, Saenz said .
Since October 2022, he said, a “criminal enterprise” has been contacting dealers before stealing their THC oil cartridges and taking their money in cases that have led to shootings.
Last month, the Harlingen police department’s new task force arrested Aaron Cisneros, 34, of Harlingen following a traffic stop in which he “was in possession of narcotics,” police stated in a news release posted on Facebook.
During a search of the man’s home in the 1400 block of East Taylor Avenue, officers found 41 THC oil cartridges, 15 grams of THC wax, 26 packages of THC edibles, 1.1 ounces of marijuana, 24.5 grams of psychedelic mushrooms, 3 grams of cocaine and $15,000 in cash, the release stated.
During an arraignment, a judge set Cisneros’ total bond at $387,000, charging him with counts of possession of Penalty Group 2 controlled substances, marijuana possession and four counts of manufacturing and delivery of controlled substances.
In response to the police department’s Facebook post, some residents questioned the state’s law.
“Our system is broken,” Bree York wrote.
In reply, Jasmine Camacho commented, “It sure is, especially because THC is legal in a lot of states already. They should divert those resources to where they are needed. The bonds and sentencing for these crimes are ridiculous. Meanwhile, others commit heinous crimes are out in a year or two.”
Some residents joked about the arrest.
“It’s only natural healing supplements,” David R. Galvan wrote. “Let him go. The yayo (cocaine) I don’t support. Give him a fine for that possession. The cash is a plus. Spend it.”
For the police department, the arrest marked the biggest THC-drug arrest since Jan. 19, when a traffic stop led officers to arrest a 16-year-old boy after a search of his home turned up 2,000 grams of THC edibles, 1 gram of THC oil, 10 grams of ecstasy, 41 grams of mushrooms, 1.5 grams of Xanax and 12.9 ounces of marijuana.
Authorities charged the boy with counts of possession of Penalty Groups 2 and 3 controlled substances and marijuana possession before taking him to the Darrell B. Hester Juvenile Detention Center in San Benito.
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