A man shops at Farma, a marijuana dispensary, in Portland
All 25 marijuana dispensaries in Oregon passed the latest round of state minor decoy operations. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which regulates the marijuana industry, periodically sends minors to try to buy marijuana from retail outlets. The latest operations targeted dispensaries in Portland, Bend and Salem, all of which had a compliance rate of 100 percent.
After a spate of marijuana dispensaries failed the checks in December and January, regulators tripled the penalties for selling to minors. Retailers now face a 30-day suspension or $4,950 fine for a first-time offense, with increasing penalties for additional offenses. The penalties are also three times those for selling alcohol or tobacco to minors.
Steve Marks, Executive Director of the OLCC, expressed dismay at the early failures in January. “These overall results are unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “This is a wake-up call to our licensed retailers. Oregonians have entrusted you with a responsibility that includes NOT selling marijuana dispensaries to minors.”
It seems that the wake-up call has worked. In five minor decoy operations conducted since January 24, all 43 dispensaries passed the checks. The OLCC sends those under the age of 21 to buy cannabis with their actual IDs under the supervision of a commission inspector. Regulators had planned to visit every licensed retailer over the course of the year, but stepped up the checks after the industry’s early spotty compliance rate.
Some in the industry have expressed skepticism that increasing penalties would be effective in combating sales to minors. “Increasing the penalty on a merchant isn’t going to stop an employee who thinks he’s doing someone a favor by allowing them to buy when they’re 19 or 20 years old,” Don Morse, chairman of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, told the Portland Business Journal.
But the checks have certainly prompted some retailers to take additional measures to ensure their employees comply with state law. Herbal Remedies, a retailer who failed one of the checks last December, started requiring its staffers to enter a potential customer’s driver’s license number into a computer, reported the Statesman Journal. The dispensary also fired the employee who sold cannabis to the minor.
The agency conducts similar decoy checks on alcohol retailers. A spokesperson for the OLCC said that the compliance rate for the alcohol industry was 78 percent. The agency can only conduct random checks on alcohol sales due to the volume of retailers in the state.
The cannabis industry’s compliance rate is now 86 percent.
While opponents to marijuana legalization argue that the policy could increase youth use of the drug, advocates often point out that regulating the marijuana industry could help keep cannabis out of the hands of young people. The percentage of teens who use marijuana in Oregon cannabis has held pretty steady since the legalization of adult-use cannabis, according to federal survey data.