Marijuana Retailers Be Like, “Are You Even 21, Bro?”

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has begun youth access compliance checks (undercover sting operations) to ensure that recreational marijuana is not being sold to minors.

In a statement issued this week, the LCB reported that 4 of the 22 retail stores investigated in western Washington did, in fact, sell cannabis to LCB investigative aides under 21 years of age. The four businesses cited will either face a 10-day suspension or a $2,500 fine, and an additional two violations within three years will result in the revocation of their business licenses. The employees who conducted the transactions may face felony charges.

Not even two weeks have passed since the LCB initially sent a communication to I-502 licensees to let them know these investigations will begin. Admittedly, we didn’t want to believe that a single person working in the legalized industry would allow this to happen– it’s just so far from the point that legalization advocates and drug war reformers bring up on a regular basis; the fact that street dealers never check IDs before selling drugs to minors and a regulated cannabis market will help to prevent (and ideally solve) the issue. Considering it was not 1, not 2, but <i>four</i> businesses in violation, I wanted to double-check if this could be attributed the investigation method in any way or if this is indeed as bad as it sounds.

Referring back to the LCB notice sent earlier this month, they actually did make it crystal clear that they would not be conducting the investigations in a way that could be interpreted as deceptive:
Our underage compliance checks are conducted using 18-21 year old men and women. These underage people are considered investigative aides (IA), and are employees of the WSLCB. We do not allow IAs to be deceptively mature, and they appear similar to others in their respective age group. The easiest way to pass a compliance check is to check the identification (ID) of anyone appearing youthful. A common regulated industry standard is to check the ID of anyone appear 30 years of age or younger.

If you ask for ID, the investigative aide will either tell you he/she does not have ID with them, or will present their true state issued ID. This will show the store employee the IA is under the legal age to frequent your business, or purchase marijuana. It is very important to check and verify ID. If you ask our IAs how old they are, he/she will respond they are 21 years old. Simply asking for someone’s age is not ensuring compliance, so ID must be checked to verify legal age.

The investigative technique seems reasonable considering this is standard protocol for their day-to-day operations. So then it’s true; the LCB conducted their initial investigation in a straightfoward way, and the 4 retailers they specified (or more specifically, negligent employees of those retail locations) messed up big time. Seriously not cool guys.

While some finger-wagging is certainly in order, the retailers are already being made an example of in a very public way, and this report will likely inspire all of the state’s marijuana retailers to be extra vigilant about checking IDs. “When the news is out, we’ll see a spike in compliance,” said Brian Smith, the communications for the Liquor and Cannabis Board. It certainly doesn’t reflect well on Washington’s legal marijuana market as a whole, though making mistakes is how lessons are learned, so let’s all be sure to remain patient and appreciative if/ when our IDs get checked two separate times at the pot shop from now on.