Washington Will Use Minors to Combat Underage Marijuana Sales
Underage stings, a commonly used tactic in alcohol law enforcement, will be used to police newly-legal marijuana in Washington State, according to a report from the Seattle Times.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB), tasked by Initiative 502 (I-502) with the enforcement of marijuana regulations, will employ 18, 19, and 20-year-olds to enter the state’s legal pot shops, once they are operational, and attempt to buy marijuana.
Like alcohol, marijuana is legal to purchase only for adults 21 and over. But unlike alcohol, selling marijuana to a minor is a felony, not a misdemeanor. This was a new penalty introduced by I-502 to ease parents’ fears about legalization’s impact on minors, but now creates a perverse “justice” where a store clerk is punished much more severely for distributing to minors a product that is far safer.
Justin Nordhorn, Chief of Enforcement for the WSLCB, explained that with the Obama administration’s August 29th memo outlining priorities for federal marijuana enforcement, ensuring minors don’t get access to legalized marijuana is of paramount importance. “Of course the feds are looking at a tightly regulated market around youth access, and I think this shows we’re being responsible,” said Nordhorn.
Washington is one of many states that produce different ID layouts for those under 21. Under the plan, the over-17-aged minors would present their actual under-21 ID, which is set in a vertical orientation. This should quite obviously show the clerk that the buyer is underage; however, a minor may have turned 21 and not yet gotten the replacement horizontal orientation license, so the clerk is then tasked with verifying the printed birthdate, again providing opportunity to reject the underage sale.
Data from the many alcohol stings performed by underage informants show that about one in seven 18, 19 and 20-year-olds who attempt to buy alcohol in a store, restaurant or bar are served. However, the punishment for serving alcohol is far less than serving marijuana to a minor. Clerks who make the underage sale are subject to a felony charge for furnishing marijuana to a minor; underage alcohol sales are only a misdemeanor in the state. Pot stores that sold to minors face a ten-day suspension or $2,500 fine, second violations within three years are worth 30-day suspension, a third strike in three years gets a license revoked permanently.
The WSLCB also recommends creating new penalties for minors who try to buy marijuana or make fake IDs to buy marijuana, a move opposed by the chief architect of I-502, Alison Holcomb, as counter to the spirit of the law to reduce criminal penalties for personal marijuana use. But WSLCB’s Chief Nordham disagrees, saying that current laws on alcohol provide for misdemeanor penalties on minors who try to buy alcohol and make fake IDs for that purpose, but no such equivalent law exists for marijuana.