Washington Liquor Stores More Likely to Sell to Minors Than Cannabis Retailers

December 19, 2016

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board recently published a report that found it’s a (little bit) easier for minors (under 21 years of age) to buy liquor and tobacco from liquor stores than trying to purchase cannabis from adult-use cannabis stores. This is good news in light of reports that the price of pot has taken a nose dive since retailers opened in  2014. Some feared dropping prices would equate to easier access for teens. When the first state-licensed cannabis stores opened in 2014, a gram sold for $30. Now? Just $8.61!

The Liquor and Cannabis Board’s enforcement officer, Justin Nordhorn, reported the agency set up a test to see how outlets would respond to minors trying to acquire three restricted products (cannabis, booze, and tobacco).

Adult-use cannabis retailers passed the test 90 percent of the time. In contrast, liquor stores passed 86% of the time for alcohol (and predictably lower for tobacco products). Four percent may not be a huge difference, but if this were school, that would be the difference between a solid “B” and an “A-.”

Arguably, there’s still work to be done. The goal, of course, should be for both cannabis retailers and liquor stores to score in the high 90s (if not, 100%).

Washington state has made it a priority to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors; for both health and safety reasons, and to meet federal Department of Justice guidelines for permitting the sale of a product that while legal under State law, is still federally illegal. With a new administration coming in this January, predictably there’s a lot of uncertainty on how the Trump administration will honor existing guidelines. On a positive note, of the hundreds of issues Congressional Republicans asked president-elect Trump to prioritize, gutting cannabis policy did not make the “wish list.”

Currently, there are 1,200 licensed growers and processors and 462 licensed marijuana retail outlets. Sales nearly reached $1 billion in sales for the fiscal year ending June 30. New data shows that so far this calendar year, sales have reached nearly $1.3 billion, netting The State, $240 million in taxes. Not too shabby!

Regulation continues to focus on keeping cannabis out of the hands of kids, and for good reason. Adolescence is a critical time for brain development, and while most studies have found that moderate cannabis use is relatively safe for adults, adolescents are at greater risk for experiencing persistent cognitive impairments and developing a use-disorder as adults. (Cannabis is not unique in this regard; similar risks exist for teen alcohol or nicotine use.)

In a continued effort to keep cannabis out of the hands of kids, starting in February 2017, regulations will require all cannabis-infused products carry a label with a red hand that says: “Not for Kids.” This should be an effective strategy as kids always heed warnings telling them what not to do! Arguably, the labeling will be more effective as a tool to remind parents to keep innocent looking cookies and chocolates beyond the reach of young ones.


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