Is that student taking history notes with that pen?

Or is he using it is smoke dope in class?

It's a question that school district officials are becoming more aware of in light of isolated reports that kids are putting marijuana oil in vapor pens and using them at school.

They get high by seemingly chewing on the ends of their pens, when they are in actuality sucking in the unscented smoke. They can use a scent in the pens to mask their recent marijuana use, too.

Officials at Lakewood High School in Denver have reported that students have used them in classrooms, and that it is a problem, according to news reports.

But in El Paso County it's not a trend or apparently not even a rare occurrence, district administrators say. Nevertheless, campus security coordinators, teachers and principals are on the alert just in case.

"It's not a problem here," said John Taylor, security coordinator for Harrison School District 2. He said that the topic has been discussed among regional school security officials and most have alerted their staff to keep their eyes peeled.

The vapor pens were developed as an alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes, and are usually used with nicotine or various aromatherapy scents and flavorings for adults wanting to quit smoking. They are thought by some to be safer healthwise. The devices, also called trippy sticks or e-cigarettes, are battery powered and use a heating element to vaporize a liquid solution, including marijuana oil.

"I know about them. Student Services knows about them. Our principals know about them. We are keeping an eye out for that and all paraphernalia, " said Ted Bauman, interim superintendent of Lewis-Palmer School District 38.There have been no cases in his district.

Sales of recreational marijuana began on Jan. 1 for those 21 years of age and older, and D-38 officials have heightened their vigilance. Sales are prohibited in most jurisdictions in the region, although Manitou Springs recently OK'd having two retail outlets and Palmer Lake is set to vote in April on whether to allow retail sales.

D-38 officials recently sent letters to parents about the strict drug-free campus policies. "We are concerned about the influence recreational and medical marijuana can have on students."

In Colorado Springs School District 11, which has more than 28,000 students, security coordinators have confiscated "a few" of the pens and cigarettes, too. "The schools are aware of this phenomena," said Devra Ashby, D-11 spokeswoman., which for decades has supported marijuana legalization, noted in December that its detailed review of the vapor pens, "has been one of the most viewed and referenced feature on the website." They judged the pens on affordability, durability, versatility, health and ease of refill. Another category: high stealth.

At first they were popular with those who take marijuana medicinally, but are now gaining favor with other adults because of that stealth factor.

The pens cost from $10 to $400 dollars depending on style and materials, said Mike Stetler, owner of Marisol Therapeutics in Pueblo West, which sells marijuana for medical and recreational use.

He explained that marijuana vapor does not have that tell-tale marijuana smoke smell. The marijuana can be used in the pens either as buds or oil, he said.

Stetler doubts that the marijuana vapor pens are a classroom trend. What is at work, he says, is the attitude of those who don't like that marijuana has been legalized medically and recreationally, so the attitude is "It is so bad so it must be a trend."

His philosophy is, "If kids shouldn't have it, then parents are doing something wrong. They let them hang with the wrong crowd or don't know what their kids are doing."

School districts for years have had formal drug policies in place, including forbidding alcohol, tobacco cigarettes and drugs on campuses.

Mark Pfoff, a D-38 board member, says the board might update district policy to specifically reflect the new technology such as vapor pens, even though it would fall under the general contraband area.

"We don't want the pens on campus," he said.


Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371. Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook: Carol McGraw