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Colorado Marijuana Retailers Have 99% Compliance Rate In Underage Sales Checks, State Regulators Say



Colorado marijuana regulators announced this week that out of 285 underage sales checks conducted at state-licensed cannabis stores this year, there have been only four failures—a compliance rate of about 99 percent.

“While any failure is unacceptable,” the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) said in the latest issue of its quarterly In the Weeds newsletter on Monday, “we’re pleased to report this very high compliance rate which is on par with the compliance percentage from 2022.”

Records from the state’s underage sales dashboard show an underage sales check compliance rate of 99 percent in 2022, which was a record high. Compliance rates were 95 percent in 2021, 97 percent in 2020 and 2019, 92 percent in 2018, 95 percent in 2017 and 94 percent in 2016.

“MED’s priority is protecting public health and safety, and nothing is more important than preventing youth access to regulated marijuana,” the agency said in the email. “While the data continually shows us that minors are overwhelmingly not getting marijuana from regulated stores, underage sales checks of licensed stores are a vital tool to keep it that way.”

Records of individual sales checks are listed on the MED dashboard, but none from 2023 are currently included. A Department of Revenue representative told Marijuana Moment that’s because “entries only appear in the dashboard once the administrative action has reached a final disposition,” which can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year after the initial violation.

Colorado requires that people show ID before they enter a Colorado cannabis shop and before making a purchase. MED has said retailers should also be aware of actions they must take if they suspect an employee is violating the rules or if a person presents fraudulent identification.

Colorado also has a training and certification program from dispensaries to receive a “Responsible Vendor” designation, which is meant to encourage compliance and also promote consumer transparency.

A study published last May in the Journal of Safety Research utilized underage operatives to determine how consistently California dispensaries abide by the law and require ID before proceeding with adult-use marijuana transactions. The analysis, based on visits to 90 shops across the state, showed 100 percent compliance.

In Oregon in 2017, 100 percent of marijuana stores passed an underage youth sales sting operation.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), now a U.S. Senator, said in 2022 that he was wrong to have speculated that marijuana legalization in the state would lead to increased youth use.

“I think we’ve proven and demonstrated that there is no increase in experimentation among teenagers. There is no change in frequency of use, no change in driving while high—all the things we most worried about didn’t come to pass,” Hickenlooper said, adding: “This was a situation where the data that came out was different than almost everyone expected.”

While youth use not increased, more elderly residents began patronizing Colorado’s cannabis shops, according to a 2018 study.

Meanwhile an American Medical Association study published last month found “significant reductions” marijuana use by young adults following state-level legalization, although consumption did tick up slightly among young adults who claimed not to have ever tried marijuana prior to the policy change.

Separate federally funded research published in August found that teen use of marijuana remained stable amid the legalization movement even as adult use of cannabis and psychedelics reached “historic highs.”

A recent Gallup poll, meanwhile, found that fully half of all American adults have tried marijuana at some point in their lives, with rates of active cannabis consumption surpassing that of tobacco. Broken down by age, 29 percent of those 18 to 34 say they currently smoke marijuana, though that’s not necessarily representative of overall cannabis use because the survey only asked about smoking and not other forms of consumption.

A separate National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last year also found that state-level cannabis legalization is not associated with increased youth use. That study observed that “youth who spent more of their adolescence under legalization were no more or less likely to have used cannabis at age 15 years than adolescents who spent little or no time under legalization.”

Yet another federally funded study from Michigan State University that was published in the journal PLOS One last year found that “cannabis retail sales might be followed by the increased occurrence of cannabis onsets for older adults” in legal states, “but not for underage persons who cannot buy cannabis products in a retail outlet.”

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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