Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Students arrested in drug bust

Police say teens at Churchill and Whitman were part of scheme involving multiple schools and more than two pounds of marijuana

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Police arrested and charged two high school students from Bethesda and Potomac in a drug bust on Friday. Police expect to make more arrests in what they believe was a drug-dealing plan involving several high school students.

Two adults, as well as the two teens, had been arrested as of Tuesday, and more than 2 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of $12,000 had been seized, police said. The investigation is ongoing.

Police believe several students from high schools including Walt Whitman in Bethesda, Winston Churchill in Potomac and Woodrow Wilson in Northwest Washington, ‘‘pooled their money together to purchase the marijuana with the believed intent to distribute to other teenagers,” according to a statement from Montgomery County Police.

Detectives on Friday began investigating a tip that drugs were being sold from a house on the 800 block of Ivy League Lane in Rockville. The detectives saw Carlos Marroquin, 21, of Silver Spring visit the house and drive away carrying a bag. Detectives followed Marroquin and, with help from a Rockville City Police officer, pulled him over for traffic violations. The officers smelled marijuana. A drug dog assisted them in finding 8 ounces of ‘‘higher potency” marijuana in the trunk, police said in the statement. Marroquin was charged with possession and released.

At this point, according to the statement, detectives awaiting a search warrant for the house saw two people later identified as high school students enter the house and leave with a bag. They drove away with Paul Peckham, 18, who police identified as a resident of the house.

Marroquin told police that Peckham sold him marijuana, police said in the statement.

Detectives pulled over the vehicle with Peckham and the teens, smelled marijuana and found 2.5 pounds in the trunk. All three were arrested.

Police charged the 17-year-old male from Bethesda, a Whitman student, and a 17-year-old female from Potomac, a Churchill student, with possession with intent to distribute. Both were released to family members.

Police found more marijuana, ecstasy, psychedelic mushrooms, packing materials, scales, unidentified ‘‘related documents” and $6,600 in the Whitman student’s home, according to the statement. Additional charges for drugs and paraphernalia are pending, said Lucille Baur, police spokeswoman.

Police searching Peckham’s house found more marijuana, packing materials and scales, and $2,600. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute and an additional two counts of committing the crime in a school zone, as his house is within 1,000 feet of the Carver Educational Center. He was released after posting a $50,000 bond.

It is fairly unusual for high school students to be involved with drug deals at this level, Baur said. It is more routine for drug arrests involving high school students and marijuana to involve a few ounces of the drug.

‘‘It is not as though they had an unusually large amount,” she said. ‘‘What is unusual is that these are high school students in possession of this amount.”

Baur said she hoped the incident would serve as a ‘‘wake up call” for parents.

‘‘The caution here is that it’s very important for parents to know who their young people are acquainted with and what they’re doing,” she said. ‘‘They should know that it does happen and it does happen in very nice communities like Bethesda and Potomac.”

Marijuana use among high school students is a bigger problem than some might expect, said Rita Rumbaugh, substance abuse prevention specialist with the Montgomery County Public Schools Department of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

‘‘It’s something that we see in every community and every neighborhood in Montgomery County,” she said. ‘‘I’m very grateful that the police are taking a serious look at this.”

More adolescents are in treatment for marijuana use than any other type of substance abuse in the county, she said.

‘‘From my point of view, marijuana is easier to get in Montgomery County than alcohol,” she said.

With county task forces and programs in and out of school focused on preventing teen drinking, marijuana has flown under the radar, she said.

Montgomery County students reported using marijuana less frequently than their colleagues in other parts of the state according to the 2004 Maryland Adolescent Survey, a report by the Maryland State Department of Education.

However, while county students may report using less marijuana, it is still a problem, Rumbaugh said.

Parents who suspect their children may have friends involved with drugs can contact their school assistance team, which can intervene early to meet with students and parents and recommend services, she said.

Many parents don’t understand how potent marijuana is now, she said. Even if a student smokes marijuana only on weekends and occasionally during the week, it is enough for them to be in a constant state of clouded thinking, she said.

‘‘Parents do not know the harmful effects of marijuana,” she said.