Zane Swiley of Savannah, Ga., enters La Conte's Clone Bar & Dispensary on Dec. 6, 2014. (Denver Post file)

Seven Denver marijuana shops cited for underage sales

Denver police issued seven citations for underage retail marijuana sales during an enforcement operation at 30 shops last week, officials said Wednesday.

Police say they conducted checks Friday in an effort to audit any potential underage sales and found there to be a “lower underage compliance rate.”

“We are disappointed,” said Lewis Koski, director of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, in a statement. “Up until now these compliance checks have been a bright spot for the industry. This recent check drops compliance to 92 percent.”

The news comes as a blow to recreational marijuana in Colorado, especially since in the roughly 21 months since recreational marijuana has been legal, stores mostly have been lauded for their compliance. Owners and operators have been praised for their handling of the hot-button topic of underage possession and consumption.

In Washington state, by comparison, which legalized recreational marijuana at the same time Colorado did but implemented recreational sales six months later, several stores have been reprimanded for selling to minors.

Koski said despite a lack of repeat violations at any one licensed shop, “this represents a downward trend in compliance that is concerning.”

When reached by phone, representatives at five of the cited shops either declined to immediately comment or said they could not discuss the citations because of ongoing criminal investigations.

“Obviously we failed at our mission to keep people under 21 out of our shop,” said Ryan Fowler, owner of the cited store Redeye Releaf. “I’m incredibly disappointed.”

Fowler said four employees, including a store manager, were fired in the citation’s wake. He added that the shop will stop accepting vertical identification cards and begin using electronic verification to ensure there are no underage customers.

“We are very concerned about this matter,” The Healing House said in a statement to The Denver Post. “We are 100 percent committed to compliance in all aspects of the law. We have had no issues in the past and we are taking this matter very seriously.”

Officials say the citations for selling marijuana to a person younger than 21 were issued at seven separate businesses. The charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

“Those dispensaries need to be held accountable,” said Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. “Your job as an owner and operator is to ensure your employees are readily trained.”

“That can’t happen again,” he added.

Henson said employers and their employees need to understand “what’s at stake here.”

Officials say the violations can mean a license suspension, a fine per individual violation, a fine in lieu of suspension of up to $100,000 and license revocation.

“Sanctions may also include restrictions on the license,” police said in a news release.

Investigators say they will file the cases with the Denver City Attorney’s Office, which could issue its own discipline ranging from license suspension to license revocation.

According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the Marijuana Enforcement Division has conducted 172 compliance checks since Jan. 1, 2014 and found 16 violations.

Jesse Paul: 303-954-1733, or @JesseAPaul

Denver marijuana shops where citations were issued

-The Herbal Cure, 985 S. Logan St.

-The Healing House, 2383 S. Downing St.

-Pure Medical Dispensary, 505 W. 40th Ave.

-La Conte’s Clone Bar & Dispensary, 105 E. 7th Ave.

-Herbs 4 You, 20 E. 9th Ave.

-Mile High Green Cross, 852 N. Broadway St.

-Redeye Releaf, 1332 S. Cherokee St.

Updated Oct. 1 at 9:08 a.m. The following corrected information has been added to this article: Previous versions of this story misreported the name of shop Redeye Releaf.

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