Budtender Will Bibbs, left, helps a customer at Washington marijuana shop Cannabis City in Seattle on Dec. 30, 2014. (Elaine Thompson, Associated Press file)

Busted: Four Washington pot stores caught selling to minors

SEATTLE — Four of the 22 legal pot shops tested in an initial round of sting operations this month failed by selling to minors — even though the shops were warned about the operations days ahead of time, Washington regulators said Wednesday.

Two shops in Tacoma and two in Everett sold marijuana to people under the legal age of 21 during checks conducted Friday through Monday, the Liquor Control Board announced.

The Tacoma shops that failed were Mary Mart and Emerald Leaves; the Everett stores were Green City Collective and Purple Haze. None of them immediately returned messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

It was a disappointing result for officials who say they’re putting a premium on public safety and protecting youth when it comes to Washington’s new legal marijuana industry.

“We all wanted compliance to be 100 percent,” said liquor board spokesman Brian Smith. “What we hope to get out of this is a spike in compliance by everyone else.”

Store employees who sold the marijuana will be referred to prosecutors for potential criminal prosecution. The cited stores could face a 10-day suspension or $2,500 fine, though they have the right to appeal.

None of the cited stores returned messages from The Associated Press seeking comment, but the owner of Mary Mart, Damien McDivitt, told The Seattle Times that he thought his store had a good procedure for checking the IDs of anyone who appeared to be under 30, and he was disappointed to learn of the failure. The employee who made the sale has been fired, he said.

“We take this very seriously. It is our livelihood and our license on the line,” McDivitt said.

On May 12, the liquor board alerted all of the licensed Washington pot stores that it would soon be conducting its first sting operations using underage buyers. The checks began just three days later.

They were conducted in Skagit, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce and Cowlitz counties using liquor board employees 18 to 20 years old.

The board told businesses to be sure to check ID at the point of sale even if someone is checking ID upon entry into the business.

“If the counter clerk relies on the door person to check ID, and an illegal sale occurs, both employees are liable for the violation,” the board warned. “The door person could be charged with allowing a minor to frequent, and the employee who made the sale could be changed with furnishing marijuana to the minor, which is classified as a felony criminal offense.”

Smith said the state’s alcohol businesses have been dealing with compliance checks for a long time, and some of them still fail. About 85 percent of all alcohol sellers pass the checks, while the compliance rate is higher — 92 percent — for spirits retailers.

Derek Franklin, head of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, called the result of the pot-store checks somewhat expected given the profit-driven nature of the commercial cannabis industry the state established, but discouraging nonetheless.

Voters passed Initiative 502 in 2012, and the state’s first legal marijuana stores opened last summer.

“I would have assumed that in the early stages of this, people would be trying to stick to the rules,” Franklin said. “I would think the stores would want to do a good job of this and show they can do it.”

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