“I don’t want my kid to be a statistic,” a worried parent of an underclassman at South Pasadena High School told the Review over the phone this week. He had recently discovered that his 15-year-old daughter had begun using ‘dabs’—a highly concentrated form of marijuana with up to eight or nine times the amount of THC (the chemical component that produces a high) contained in a normal joint—in his own home. “She’s been a good student, a good athlete all her life,” said the father, “and now she’s just dropped off. When I researched what this drug does, it really terrified me.”
In his three years as a student resource officer (SRO) in South Pasadena Unified School District, SPPD Detective Avick Manukian has encountered butane hash oil—known more commonly by the slang terms dabs, wax, and shatter—only once, on a routine classroom search. “I wouldn’t say that there is a drug problem at the high school,” said Manukian, “because the school takes steps to prevent it. Since I started (in 2015), the number of drugs in schools has dropped dramatically because we’re doing K-9 searches more often.”
But while the drug-dog inspecting company Interquest has increased its presence at the city’s middle and high school campuses over the course of the last five years, the corresponding normalization of marijuana products over that same period of time has made the drug increasingly accessible to kids, suggesting that the fewer reported campus infractions may not signify a dip in its use by Tigers’ students.
Making it more tempting for students to use, worries Manukian, is the reduced penalty for marijuana possession today compared to the laws surrounding the drug when parents were their kids’ age. “It used to be a felony or misdemeanor and now it is an infraction,” said the detective. “Basically, the penalty is serving 10 hours of community service or attending a drug education class.”
Furthermore, there is no harsher punishment for students found with high concentrates like dabs than for those with a simple joint or bowl. “No matter if the kids are found with dabs or regular pot, they would be cited for an infraction,” said Manukian.
Typically most startling for parents encountering dabbing for the first time (it has existed for decades) is the procedure it requires—or the complete lack thereof. Dab rigs, as they are referred to by paraphernalia distributors, are glass water pipes specifically designed for igniting the oily, brownish-yellow substance, which advocates say relieve extreme pain because of its numbing effects. To light the oil, dabbers use mini torches that exert cool, blue flames. Often, the dab is placed on top of a titanium nail that is heated to between 300 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This nail can be exposed, creating a potential for users to suffer serious burns.
In the last couple of years, with the rising popularity of vaporizer pens, dabbing has become available in that form, making it hard to detect and easy for kids to use in public settings.
Manukian advises parents, such as the father whose daughter’s unusually poor performance in school and sudden lethargy, to research the drug’s effects and have frank conversations with their children. “I believe in getting involved. Being aware of what’s in your child’s room. Look around, be open and communicative with your child. Talk to your child about drugs. It’s not an easy topic to bring up but it’ll serve them right when you are more open with them. You can go ahead and talk to them about the dangers and what it can do to them.”
The detective can find his role especially challenging when he sees students go through a difficult phase after watching them thrive earlier in their SPUSD education. “When you do know them at such a young age and you watch them grow up you do get attached to them. You want them to do well in life. In this job you’re a counselor, you’re a teacher, a parent, a friend—and also a police officer as well. If they do break the law, basically what I’m doing is writing them a citation to get them before a judge and force them to get educated about drugs.”
“I’m making the parents aware of the issue,” he continued, “and a parent is required to appear with their child at the courtroom.”
“Parents can call me anytime,” said Manukian. “I’m willing to help in any way.”
You can reach detective Manukian at (626) 403-7284 or email@example.com with any questions or concerns.