A handful of legal pot shops were busted selling weed to minors, authorities in Washington State said in late May.
Businesses were warned about the sting in advance; earlier in the month, officials at the Liquor Control Board said they would be doing spot checks at shops across the state.
Undercover agents, aged 18 to 20, were told to try to buy pot at each of 22 shops without offering identification. If asked for ID, they were supposed to either say they didn’t have any or provide genuine ID that proved they were minors.
Legal weed was introduced across Washington last summer. Though it ran into early trouble, the program now seems to be working as planned. Adults are allowed to buy and possess up to an ounce of pot, while retail businesses are allowed to grow, process, and sell it.
But no one under the age of 21 is allowed to use the drug outside the strictly regulated state program that provides medical marijuana to sick children. The drug is treated much the same as alcohol.
Compliance checks for pot stores
Since liquor stores are subject to surprise compliance checks, it makes sense authorities would target pot shops too. But officials said the busts should be seen as a good thing for all legitimate providers.
“We recognize this is a new industry,” said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Liquor Control Board. “And news of this will spike compliance. That’s how compliance checks work.”
Smith said the problem often boils down to simple mistakes such as misreading licenses or miscalculating the age of marijuana buyers based on their dates of birth.
“People do make mistakes,” he said. “They don’t do the math correctly.”
The 22 shops are located in Skagit, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce, and Cowlitz counties. Officials said King County, the state’s largest county and home to Seattle, would be subject to compliance checks in the future, as would other counties.
Stores fined and issued citations
The four stores that sold to underage buyers include Mary Mart and Emerald Leaves of Tacoma, Wash., and Purple Haze and the Green City Collective in Everett, Wash. All four shops will be fined and issued citations, Smith said.
The businesses could face fines of up to $2,500 on a first offense, plus a maximum 10-day license suspension. That amount of money and lost business could prove very costly, especially to smaller shops, but the biggest threat is a long-term penalty following subsequent violations.
Damien McDivitt, owner of Mary Mart, said he was disappointed to learn the company’s age verification procedures had failed. He said he would pay the fine and institute better policies. He also fired the employee who sold to a minor. But the possibility of real trouble down the road is what scares him most, he said.
“If we get one more of these, then it’s a suspension of our license,” McDivitt said.