Regulation works – surprise surprise !
The Press Telegram reports
Researchers did find minor violations of state law at some legal shops. But they say the illicit market is a far bigger problem.
California’s licensed marijuana shops are doing an excellent job at preventing sales to minors, according to a first-of-its-kind study commissioned by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
That means the industry is living up to a key promise advocates made when voters legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older nearly five years ago.
“Licensed marijuana retailers are clearly keen to follow the rules,” said Angela Eichelberger, a research scientist with the Insurance Institute who authored the report with University of Chicago and University of Minnesota experts. “They’re aware that the industry hasn’t won everybody over yet, and they don’t want to get shut down.”
The study did find isolated violations of state law at some legal shops, such as workers giving out free samples of edibles. And researchers offered suggestions to further boost protections for minors.
But the study’s authors said the California’s still vibrant world of unlicensed retailers is the biggest problem when it comes to selling cannabis to underage consumers. Statewide, the illicit market remains three times larger than the legal market, since the lack of taxes and regulations allows unlicensed shops to sell cheaper products to anyone who comes shopping — including minors.
Industry advocates say the situation in California presents a clear lesson for states such as New York and New Mexico that are just launching new recreational cannabis industries and want to keep marijuana away from minors.
“The legal market is solving these problems,” said Elliot Lewis, CEO of Catalyst Cannabis Co., which has five licensed shops in Los Angeles and Orange counties. “But in the illicit market, it’s obviously open season.”
The penalty in California for giving marijuana to someone under 21 without a doctor’s recommendation for medical use is up to six months in jail and a fine of as much as $500 for a first offense. But there are other possible repercussions for legitimate business owners, who risk losing competitive state licenses that can take months and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain.
In Los Angeles, for example, licensed cannabis shops that even let someone under 21 years old in the door can face a fine and a suspended or revoked license, according to Michelle Garakian, assistant executive director of the city’s Department of Cannabis Regulation.
Objective: Since 2012, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults ages 21 and older. Prior research on enforcement of the minimum legal marijuana use age of 21 (MLMU-21) laws is limited.
The objective of the current study was to assess the ease of access to marijuana by underage patrons at recreational marijuana outlets in California, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2016.
Method: A survey was administered to a random sample of 25 law enforcement agency representatives from across California to better understand enforcement strategies concerning recreational marijuana, and pseudo-underage patrons were sent to 50 randomly selected licensed recreational marijuana outlets in the state to see if they could enter the outlet without showing a valid identification with their age.
Results: Most of the surveyed law enforcement agencies in California do not consider enforcement of the recreational marijuana market a priority and depend mainly on the retail store security to enforce the marijuana use age of 21. At 100% of the recreational marijuana outlets visited, the pseudo-underage patrons were required to show age identification to enter
Conclusions: It appears that California recreational marijuana outlets avoid selling marijuana to underage customers. However, according to a recently published study and an investigative report, there are hundreds of illicit marijuana dispensaries in California. Future studies could investigate whether underage patrons attempt to use fake IDs at licensed dispensaries and whether youth are obtaining marijuana from illicit dispensaries or social sources.