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Who Sells Drugs to More Oregon Kids – Marijuana or Alcohol Retailers?

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Who Sells Drugs to More Oregon Kids – Marijuana or Alcohol Retailers?

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Oregon’s budtenders are doing a far better job at keeping their product out of the hands of underaged purchasers than Oregon’s bartenders.

The latest Minor Decoy Operations conducted by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission show that the last five marijuana stings, comprised of checks of 43 pot shops in 14 cities, failed to net a single instance where a licensed Oregon marijuana retailer sold product to a a decoy.

After a rough beginning, Oregon marijuana retailers are becoming increasingly good at keeping weed out of teens’ hands.

By comparison, the last five checks of alcohol retailers, comprised of 84 locations in 7 cities, found 13 that provided access to booze to people under 21, for a compliance rate of 84.5 percent.

For 2018, the overall compliance rate for marijuana retailers has been 92 percent. Prior to the most recent five checks with a perfect 100 percent compliance there had been three other checks this year of 52 retailers with 8 that had sold to minors. Still, those first three checks calculate out to 84.6 percent compliance – still outperforming alcohol retailers.

There has been no Minor Decoy Operation for alcohol this year to have come up with 100 percent compliance. The 2018 rate for alcohol is sitting at 85.3 percent compliance.

While marijuana retailers are getting better, alcohol retailers are getting worse at checking teens for proper ID.

The last time OLCC ran a Minor Decoy Operation with 100 percent compliance was in November 2017.

OLCC’s Minor Decoy Operations consist of young-looking volunteers under the age of 21 who are presenting their actual Oregon identification. Oregon’s IDs for minors feature a thick red border around the picture that reads “UNDER 21 UNTIL” followed by the date the minor will be able to purchase alcohol and marijuana legally.

How hard is it for a bartender, server, or store clerk to see a big red border around a teenager’s picture on an Oregon ID?

Last time I reported on OLCC MDOs, I noted how the commission was conducting one-half as many compliance checks for alcohol in the past couple of years than in the biennium prior. Between those two periods, the annual compliance rate dropped from 81 percent to 79 percent.

So far, the 2018 alcohol compliance rate of 85 percent is an improvement. However, this is a slight decline from the 86 percent compliance OLCC found in the first five stings of 2018.

In contrast, OLCC found 85 percent compliance in the first three marijuana stings of 2018, followed by the most recent five stings with perfect 100 percent compliance.

I asked OLCC Director Steve Marks about the success of marijuana compliance checks compared to alcohol back in January. Marks was appearing at a cannabis event in Portland and characterized the marijuana compliance rate, which in the first few stings came in at only 81 percent, as “bad.”

I asked Marks if 81 percent was “bad” for marijuana, was the rate then for alcohol of 79 percent “worse?”

Marks replied, “It’s a specious comparison in my mind. … [I]n alcohol, there’s sales and service and there’s thousands and thousands of locations. [With marijuana,] we’re talking about, you know, five hundred that are like just looking for one simple thing on the ID.”

The comparison is only specious in the sense that one of those legal drugs can’t kill an Oregon teenager. Both are drugs that Oregon law limits to purchasers 21 years old and older. That there are thousands of retail outlets for alcohol, including taverns, bars, nightclubs, outdoor festivals, restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores, suggests to me that OLCC should be focusing more intently on alcohol retailers.

Yet for Oregon’s “thousands and thousands” of alcohol retailers, OLCC has conducted stings at 156 of them this year. For Oregon’s approximately 500 marijuana retailers, OLCC has conducted stings at 95 of them. Roughly speaking, it seems a marijuana retailer is twice as likely to be checked by OLCC as an alcohol retailer.

A marijuana retailer is also punished worse than an alcohol retailer for selling to a minor. In reaction to the initial compliance failures, in January the OLCC shifted the penalties for noncompliance by one degree stiffer – what was the penalty for a second violation, 30-day license suspension or a $4,950 fine, became the penalty for a first offense. A second violation in a two-year period receives an automatic 30-day suspension and a third means the permanent revocation of license.

In announcing the stiffer penalties, Director Marks explained, “It’s our core mission at the OLCC to prevent the sale of marijuana to minors. The early results are unacceptable and we’ll keep holding retailers and their employees accountable until they get it right.”

But preventing the sale of alcohol to minors is also a core mission, one the OLCC has been at for far longer. Yet as the alcohol compliance rate continues its two-year trend downward, including 2018 checks that have come in as low as 60 percent, OLCC maintains the penalty structure that only threatens a 10-day license suspension or $1,650 fine for a first offense and requires four failures in two years to mandate automatic license revocation.

The voters of Oregon in 2014 demanded that marijuana be treated like alcohol. Given the success we’ve had at keeping teenagers from purchasing legal marijuana, maybe it is time we started treating alcohol like marijuana.

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