The legalization of marijuana in Colorado occurred on January 1, 2014. By early March of that year additional laws were enacted to help further regulate the sale of the recreation drug to consumers under the age of 21. Adults that sell to minors may now face felony charges under the additional laws that were implemented.
In the past dispensaries that were caught selling marijuana to minors in Colorado were mainly slapped on the wrist, and fined at most. The stricter approach provides law enforcement and other regulatory agencies with the ability to now throw the book at marijuana shops that break the law. The newer law affects the minors as well, as the penalty for a minor that purchases the drug has also increased from a Class 2 misdemeanor to a Class 1 misdemeanor. The difference is extremely significant since the Class 1 generally consists of jail time, while the Class 2 does not.
Under the recent legislation, if a minor purchases marijuana in a dispensary in Colorado from a person who is a minimum of three years older than they are, the seller may face felony charges. The goal of all of this is to equalize pot regulations in line with alcohol laws, with a goal to ultimately protect children. In theory the possibility of a felony charge should reinforce the dispensary workers to check and double check identification prior to completing the sale.
Although a few minors using fake ID’s have been caught, many are still slipping through the cracks. New technology, in both computers and printers, has made it easier than ever to produce realistic looking identification cards. Many dispensaries are using ID scanners to prevent fake IDs and deter their use. Newer law now allow marijuana dispensaries to confiscate the IDs of minors who are attempting to purchase the recreational drug.
The situation for dispensaries becomes a bit more complex for consumers that are 18 to 20. In the state of Colorado these young adults are only allowed to legally purchase medical marijuana. They must show a special medical marijuana identification card issued by a licensed medical doctor or nurse practitioner.
However, the dispensary must have medical marijuana licensing in additional to the standard license to sell pot to the general public. This was not a problem when marijuana first became legal in Colorado in January 2014. Medical marijuana dispensaries were the first to obtain licensing to sell it to the general public. Fast forward to the present. At this time more and more dispensaries are opening due to the fact that they do not need a medical marijuana license, only a special license to sell the recreation drug to people 21 or older. In essence, marijuana sales in Colorado are treated the same way that alcohol sales are on a national level.
Back in July of 2015, two recreational marijuana dispensaries in Aspen were cited by state regulators for selling pot to an underage customer. Up until this point it was a rare case of the recreation marijuana industry in the state of Colorado. It was confirmed, by the Marijuana Enforcement Division, that two citations were issues after they conducted seven underage compliance checks in the area. At that point in time, the division had conducted approximately 130 compliance checks throughout the entire state, with a total of nine violations.
The majority of recreational stores in Colorado have been praised for complying with the law on under age sales since legalization was first enacted in January 2014. The state of Washington legalized marijuana the same time Colorado did, but began sales six months later. Since that time a plethora of stores have been cited for selling to minors there. Colorado is leading by showing a better example, however, the system is far from perfect.
In addition to the potential jail time for the person that sells marijuana to minors in Colorado, the stores themselves face a fine up to $100,000 and the potential to have their license suspended or even revoked. Dispensary owners certainly have a lot on the line regarding the sale of their products to consumers under 21. That being said, in October police conducted a sting operation in Denver to flush out shops selling to people under the legal age of 21. Thirty suspected shops were put under investigation, which amounts to nearly 25% of the legalized marijuana stores in the city. Up to this point sting operations that were conducted since the legalization of marijuana began only uncovered underage sales on extremely rare occasions in Denver. As a matter of fact the first round of stings last year resulted in a total of zero dispensaries violating the law. With the seven recent busts, Colorado’s overall compliance rate dropped to a still impressive 91%. The department plans to work even harder in order to raise the compliance percentage.
These recent rounds of sting operations resulted in seven different clerks being ticketed and charged with a class 1 misdemeanor in Denver for selling marijuana to minors. All of the seven shops risk loss of their license, and the Denver police department is in the process of filing administrative cases with the city attorney’s office to further investigate the businesses. In addition, state investigators are looking into the cases as well. The State of Colorado has issued over 200 marijuana sales licenses with the majority being in Denver.
Even at the 91% mark, the numbers are certainly not alarming to the overall health of the system. Considering that prior to January 1, 2014 with the exception of medical marijuana dispensaries, every single person selling it had certainly failed to ask their customer for an ID. Passing the law and regulating sales has certainly made the drug business safer for consumers, police and other enforcement agencies, as well as the sellers themselves. Compliance rates for the sale of alcohol and tobacco in the state of Colorado are at 91% and 92% respectively. This puts marijuana compliance at the exact same level even with the recent violations.
UPDATE: A number of states legalized recreational marijuana in the November, 2016 elections. Will these states model their laws after Colorado? Our guess is they will because what they are doing in Colorado seems to be working.
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