Cannabis in America
How Often Do Dispensaries Sell Marijuana to Minors?
Legalizing recreational marijuana, some argue, could lead to a proliferation of underage sales. Profit might trump policy and safety. But a new study offers no evidence, specifically in Colorado, where state-licensed dispensaries popped up in 2014 after recreational weed earned legal status in 2012, that dispensaries sell recreational pot to minors.
Visiting state-licensed dispensaries in Colorado over a period of four days in August 2015, the authors of the study found that all proprietors asked for ID, and only one agreed to sell their product in the absence of an ID. Led by a pair of doctors from the health communications firm Klein Buendel, the study concluded:
Compliance with laws restricting marijuana sales to individuals age 21 years or older with a valid ID was extremely high and possibly higher than compliance with restrictions on alcohol sales. The retail market at present may not be a direct source of marijuana for underage individuals, but future research should investigate indirect sales.
In 2012 Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the first state to do so. But recreational bud did not hit the regulated market until 2014. Opponents argued shifting to a legal market would lead to minors having easier access to the drug. And despite the new study, published in the November issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, state-sponsored sting operations have uncovered evidence to support both sides.
A police sting operation of 20 retailers in Colorado in June 2014 found no wrongdoing. All dispensaries complied with the law, refusing to sell to minors. “We are pleased with the results, and will continue to monitor the businesses to ensure that the compliance efforts are maintained,” said the director of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, which worked with the police in the sting.
But a similar operation nearly one year later contradicted those findings. In September 2015, one month after the Klein Buendel study conducted its study, undercover police visited 30 Denver-area dispensaries. Police issued seven of them–including “The Healing House” and “Herbs 4 You”–citations for selling to minors. “Up until now these compliance checks have been a bright spot for the industry. This recent check drops compliance to 92 percent,” the MED director said at the time.
In Washington, where recreational marijuana is also legal, a sting last May found four stores guilty of selling to minors. For stores in Colorado that break the law and sell to minors, penalties can include a suspended or revoked license, and up to $100,000 in fines.