Sting Operations in Washington State Aim to Prevent Underage Marijuana Sales


One of the advertised benefits of ending marijuana prohibition is that, in legal markets, retailers are incentivized not to sell their products to kids.

Washington State announced on Tuesday that it is serious about making sure this goal is met, and officials there will be conducting undercover sting operations to make sure that legal marijuana sellers aren’t doing business with underage customers.

The Enforcement and Education Division of the state’s Liquor Control Board will be sending people under 21 into marijuana shops to try to identify retailers that aren’t playing by the rules. Anyone caught will face severe penalties.

“If you ask for ID, the investigative aide [IA] will either tell you he/she does not have ID with them, or will present their true state issued ID,” the Liquor Control Board said in an email announcing the program. “This will show the store employee the IA is under the legal age to frequent your business, or purchase marijuana. It is very important to check and verify ID. If you ask our IAs how old they are, he/she will respond they are 21 years old. Simply asking for someone’s age is not ensuring compliance, so ID must be checked to verify legal age.”

Any employee caught selling to minors could be charged with a felony criminal offense. And business owners can face penalties as well. “Remember that ultimately the licensee is responsible for the acts of their employees, and administrative penalties can also be assessed for non-compliance,” the state’s bulletin says.

Washington isn’t the only legalization state that is serious about preventing underage sales. Colorado also conducts similar compliance checks, and the results so far show that the industry there seems to realize the value of playing by the rules.

Last June the Denver Post reported that the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division conducted 20 sting operations, and in every case stores sent the undercover underage buyers away empty handed.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

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