In the state’s first checkup on recreational-marijuana stores, four of 22 stores sold pot to underage buyers, according to the Liquor Control Board.
In the state’s first checkup on recreational-marijuana stores, four of 22 stores sold marijuana to underage buyers, according to the Liquor Control Board (LCB).
The state last week announced it would use 18- to 20-year-old buyers as part of a compliance-check program launching this month.
If asked for identification, the buyers were directed either to say they did not have ID or present a real state-issued identification. People must be 21 and older to legally buy marijuana.
Brian Smith, a spokesman for LCB, said the agency had spent the past year educating retailers on best practices to not sell to underage customers. He said citations for the four business would hammer that message home.
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“We recognize this is a new industry. Any news of this will spike compliance — that’s how compliance checks work,” Smith said.
Smith recommended stores double-check IDs.
“People do make mistakes … they don’t do the math correctly,” Smith said.
When the LCB does checks for alcohol, Smith said, between 85 and 92 percent of sellers are in compliance.
Smith said all of the state’s marijuana stores will be visited by June 30 for compliance checks. More than 150 stores have been licensed by the state.
The first round of checks were conducted in Skagit, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce and Cowlitz counties between May 15-18. King County stores have not yet been checked for compliance.
The four businesses that sold to minors and will be cited: Mary Mart and Emerald Leaves in Tacoma, and Green City Collective and Purple Haze in Everett.
The stores could be suspended for 10 days or face a $2,500 fine, according to the LCB.
The agency said it sent to county prosecutors the names of the employees who sold marijuana to underage buyers. The employees could face felony charges.
The owner of Mary Mart, Damien McDivitt, said he thought his store already had good ID-check procedures and was disappointed to hear they had failed.
“We take this very seriously. It is our livelihood and our license on the line,” said McDivitt.
Before the compliance check, McDivitt said his sales staff was supposed to ask anyone who looked younger than 30 to present their ID on the sales floor. All IDs were also to be checked at the point of sale, he said.
How did someone underage get through?
“It was one individual’s bad day,” said McDivitt. “They lost their job here. They’re no longer employed at Mary Mart.”
McDivitt said Mary Mart will now have someone at the door who uses a handheld scanner to check IDs.
“It scans and verifies. It helps us do math. You run the person’s form of ID through it, it spits out their age and if it’s a valid ID or if it’s an expired license,” said McDivitt.
Leroy Dunn, who owns Emerald Leaves, the other Tacoma store cited, said he planned to adopt a mobile-identification machine, as well.
He said an employee misread a vertical identification and allowed an underage person to buy marijuana at his store.
“We’re taking the guess work and the calculations out of employees’ hands,” he said.
McDivitt said he was disappointed to be fined, but the risk of messing up again scared him most.
“If we get one more of these, then it’s a suspension of our license,” said McDivitt.
Dunn said he supported the state protecting the public but added that the system didn’t seem fair to him because medical dispensaries are not regulated and don’t face the same scrutiny. Soon, those businesses will be closed or folded into the recreational-marijuana system.
Representatives at both Everett stores declined to comment.
About 66 percent of Washington’s 12th-grade students statewide believe marijuana is easy to get, according to the state’s Healthy Youth Survey. In the survey, more than 200,000 kids this year answered questions about their views on marijuana and other issues.
Information in this article, originally published May 20, 2015, was corrected May 20, 2015. A previous version of this story included information from a University of Washington study about marijuana use that incorrectly represented the demographic studied.