Despite the recent move of Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind the Obama Administration’s Cole Memo, the cannabis legalization movement is stronger than it has ever been, with more bipartisan support and we continue to improve marijuana laws state by state, and even nation by nation. However, we must not take our progress for granted. I was extremely dismayed by the news that so many marijuana businesses sold to people under the age of 21 in recent state decoy operations. Simply put, Oregon cannabis retailers must do a better job of checking IDs to ensure that all customers are aged 21 years or older. We have worked too hard and had too much success to put all of our gains at risk.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) regulates both the sale of alcohol and cannabis commission and they send in potential “buyers” under the age of 21 into licensed establishments. The potential buyers are escorted by an OLCC official that remains out of sight. The underage decoy then attempts to make purchases with their own IDs. The OLCC decoys do not use fake IDs and they don’t lie.
At first, cannabis retail stores got off to a great start. On December 19th, 2017, the OLCC conducted 20 decoy operations in Central Oregon (Bend & La Pine) and the businesses scored 100% as none of the stores sold to a minor. A sincere thanks to these businesses for following the will of the voters and setting the standard for the rest of the state.
Unfortunately, the news wasn’t so good as the OLCC moved into other areas of the state. Eugene-Springfield area businesses maintained 84% compliance(16/19); Keizer-Salem 78% (18/23); Portland a dismal 43% (3/7); and Southern Oregon 67% (8/12). The OLCC went back to Central Oregon and those businesses were 100% perfectly compliant again on December 28, 2017, as all 5 of the businesses checked refused to sell to the OLCC decoy.
As The Oregonian Editorial Board wrote, “Oregon has good reason to be proud of its legalized marijuana industry.” State cannabis businesses have created over 19,000 new jobs, generated over $85 million in new tax revenue, and the sky hasn’t fallen like Reefer Madness prohibitionists predicted.
However, more bad compliance failures put all of our successes at risk. Prohibitionists that want to shut reinstate prohibition will seize upon any mistakes and Jeff Sessions is itching for excuses to send in federal agents to trample the will of Oregon voters. Let’s not give them any ammunition.
The cannabis businesses that failed during these recent decoy operations will suffer consequences (fine and license suspension) and their licenses will be put at risk by any future mistakes. You can bet that they will now be under even heavier scrutiny by regulators and that there will be discussions by legislators to enhance state penalties and sanctions.
These failures almost couldn’t have come at a worse time, but they aren’t fatal. Despite these mistakes, Oregon voters know that cannabis regulation is much better than prohibition. However, these businesses have to shape up.
We have all worked too hard and some advocates have spent decades ending a harmful war waged against nonviolent cannabis consumers, patients, and providers. People have literally lost their lives in this fight for freedom. Let’s do better and move onward to create more jobs, more revenue, and more freedom, here in Oregon, across the nation and around the world.