Oregon Pot Shop Audit Concerns OLCC and State Officials

On January 10, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission released a statement detailing the results of a decoy sting officials conducted over the winter holidays. Volunteer minors were sent into pot shops at various locations to see if employees checked customer IDs. Results of the survey sorely disappointed OLCC officials, and the findings couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. 

Just over a month ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his rescinding of the Cole Memorandum, threatening the rights of state officials to preside over most matters concerning legal cannabis, especially in states whose citizens are still struggling to follow the rules and regulations regarding the sale of pot – which is still being regarded by the federal government as a dangerous and illegal drug.

The OLCC currently enforces nearly all state-based policies relating to the sale of pot, including Subsection 49 of Measure 91, which prohibits the sale of weed to minors under 21 years of age. Surveys of pot retailers, including decoy operations, have been conducted regularly since legalization in order to comply with state requirements, which also include seed-to-sale tracking and regulation of licensing to retailers.

According to records from the OLCC’s Public Safety Division, from December 20 to December 29 of 2017, OLCC officials sent minor decoys into pot shops in Ashland, Gold Hill, Medford, Phoenix, Bend, Madras, Salem, Keizer, Eugene, Springfield, and Portland. While in some areas workers complied with the law, in several others employees did not ask for identification, and sold cannabis to the minor decoys. 

Though Bend dispensaries displayed the highest level of compliance with the law, Portland pot shops were a severe disappointment with a rate of only 43 percent. On the higher average were dispensaries in cities like Salem, which received a compliance rate of 78 percent.

Since publishing the survey, the OLCC has been prompted to create new penalties for workers, owners, and businesses found selling to minors. The OLCC released a statement on January 25 detailing several temporary changes that will occur until the organization reaches a consensus on what penalties will work in the long term. 

For example, while the previous penalties for selling pot to a minor more than once in a year were a 10-day license suspension for a second offense and a 30-day suspension for a third, the new rules give a 30-day suspension for a second offense and a license revocation for a third.

According to a January 26 report from Leafly, OLCC Chairman Paul Rosenbaum stated that there’s “no room for error” when it comes to selling pot to minors. And the Arizona Medical Marijuana Certification Center reported on January 27 that according to the OLCC’s executive director, Steve Marks, the results of the Oregon decoy sting were “unacceptable,” and that “we need to continue this type of enforcement activity.” 

In the wake of the disappointing results, officials are concerned for the future of Oregon’s pot industry, especially since Sessions shocked Oregonians by rescinding the Cole Memo, which had previously delegated cannabis regulation to the officials of states where cannabis is legalized. This “hands-off” policy no longer exists, and in its stead – as Sessions qualified in a public statement released on January 4 – the sale of cannabis is no longer exempt from most federal intervention.

The Oregonian reported that at a Marijuana Summit held in Portland on February 2, Oregon’s U.S. Attorney, Billy Williams voiced his concerns about Oregon workers’ disregard for following the rules that would ensure we continue to have legal access to cannabis. 

Though Williams has not yet been reported as commenting on the results of the minor ID decoy sting, he has – according to the report from Leafly – reminded Oregonians that he has “significant concerns about the state’s current regulatory framework, and the resources allocated to policing marijuana in Oregon.” 

Williams said at the Marijuana Summit, however, that he is “not an alarmist,” and didn’t want people to have that perception of him. “Take the blinders off,” he added. “Here are the realities.”

By Kiki Genoa