JAN 24, 2020 11:51 AM PST

Sting Operation: Underage Customers Can't Buy Cannabis

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Cannabis retailers in Colorado, Washington and Oregon have received top marks in secret tests to determine whether they were selling to underage buyers (younger than 21). The sting operations were carried out by researchers in 2016 and 2017 in Washington and Colorado, and by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) in that state in 2017.

The authors of the two-year, two-state study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs in 2019, state compliance with the age restriction “was high,” and also that following these laws is in the interest of marijuana businesses, “to avoid increased federal scrutiny and controls.”

Stores in Colorado and Washington Follow the Rules

Between September 2016 and April 2017, 85 marijuana stores in Colorado and 90 in Washington were secretly investigated as part of the study, “Compliance With Personal ID Regulations by Recreational Marijuana Stores in Two U.S. States.” In some of the trials carried out, young adults tried to enter cannabis dispensaries and make purchases without showing any ID. In others, buyers showed underage IDs and tried to then complete sales.

An impressive 100% of stores requested ID from the fake customers. Close to 93 percent of buyers overall were prevented from getting cannabis by the time a purchase was attempted. Colorado had higher underage refusal rates than Washington. The researchers suggest one reason for this is that stores in Colorado were more likely to check IDs upon entry to the store, rather than later on.

“Checking IDs at the door may be an effective compliance technique. When buyers are able to interact with the clerk at the counter and select a product for purchase, clerks may believe erroneously that some other employee checked their IDs, establish a relationship with buyers, and/or feel pressure to conclude the sale,” the study stated.

The author also noted that cursory ID checks that were not carefully executed might lead employees to miss some underage IDs. Overall, they note, “refusal rates exceeded those for alcohol and are similar to those for tobacco.”

Full Compliance in Oregon

In December 2017, the OLCC in Oregon conducted a “statewide minor decoy operation” to explore whether marijuana sellers were letting minors buy their products. Minor volunteers attempted to enter and shop in 20 marijuana retailers in central Oregon, and all 20 shops passed the test.

“That our licensed retailers in central Oregon scored 100 percent on refusal to sell marijuana to a minor is a sign that this segment of our regulated industry understands the importance of compliance,” Steve Marks, executive director of the OLCC, said. “We’re working to make sure that all segments of our regulated market are living up to the requirements of their license, and the expectations Oregonians have that they will act responsibly and follow the law.”

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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