State Audit Calls Out MED For Failing To Prevent Underage Marijuana Sales

A new state audit says that the Marijuana Enforcement Division or MED has been doing its job improperly.

A parent group pushed for the audit after learning some dispensaries were selling to kids who admitted they were underage. But the state auditor says the Marijuana Enforcement Division didn’t do underage compliance checks — or even inspect — many dispensaries for four years.

The Cannabis Report – August 16th, 2023

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    State Audit Calls Out MED For Failing To Prevent Underage Marijuana Sales Hannah Leigh

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Last year, the parent group, Blue Rising Together, initially pushed for a bill that would have required at least one underage sting operation per dispensary per year, but it died in a senate committee after all but one lawmaker voted against it.

“We don’t have compliance checks and we’re not certain that these stores are not selling to kids. Our kids are getting a hold of extremely high potency products that are extremely dangerous and have been shown to be connected to psychosis, to schizophrenia, to depression, to anxiety,” says Dawn Reinfeld, executive director of Blue Rising Together, a group against guns and marijuana for young people. The state, in order to head this off, put the weird problem in the hands of parents, who are buying the high potency products and not keeping them away from their children.

According to the audit, the MED has conducted 723 underage compliance inspections so far in 2023, compared to 573 in 2021 and 2022 combined. In 2019, the department conducted 1,031 such visits.

Reinfeld pushed for the audit along with State Sens. Chris Hansen and Kevin Priola after an open records request found the Liquor Enforcement Division had done 25 times more underage compliance checks as the Marijuana Enforcement Division in 2020 even though it had half as many full-time employees.

The state auditor made a number of recommendations aimed at increasing inspections and compliance going forward. More than 1-in-3 new retail marijuana stores, or 40 out of 112, were not inspected within a year of being licensed. It also did not inspect about a third of the stores targeted for inspections, or 182 out of 567, either because they were new or had not been inspected for two years or more.

The audit looked at the division’s activities between fiscal years 2019 and 2022. Statistics cited in the audit show a precipitous drop in targeted inspections and underage compliance in the fiscal year beginning in July 2020 — when the pandemic was upending day-to-day society — and that they haven’t quite recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

“I’m glad that (auditors) pointed the finger at the department in that they dropped the ball,” state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Democrat who asked for the audit, said, adding that the department “didn’t deliver what the voters expected when they legalized marijuana.”

The audit found that the division was not checking every store it prioritized for inspection of underage sales, though it did check most of them. About 88% of the stores prioritized were inspected, leaving 75 shops that were not. A retail store was prioritized to check for compliance with underage sales laws if it had never had a check, had not had a compliance check in a timeframe set by internal targets, or failed a previous compliance check.

The audit also found inconsistent citations for stores found to violate underage sales laws. In a review of seven incidents where an underage operative was able to gain access to prohibited areas or buy marijuana, six stores were cited for failing to verify age, five for allowing access to a restricted area, and three for dispensing marijuana to a person without a valid ID. Auditors expected each to face underage sales violations, as well.

In a public response to the report, the MED says that it “appreciates” the audit and “looks forward to implementing” its recommendations. However, the MED also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic affected its ability to conduct in-store compliance actions, and that other inspections were conducted at dispensaries even if underage sales checks were not.

The division noted that since May 2022, it has conducted more than 600 checks for underage sales and found a 99% compliance rate among retail marijuana stores. A spokesperson for the marijuana enforcement division deferred to the bulletin for its response to the audit.

About Leland Rucker:

Leland Rucker is a journalist who has been covering the cannabis industry culture since Amendment 64 legalized adult-use in Colorado, for Boulder Weekly, Sensi, and The News Station. Leland has been keeping KGNU listeners up-to-date on cannabis news for nearly a decade.

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    State Audit Calls Out MED For Failing To Prevent Underage Marijuana Sales Hannah Leigh

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Hannah Leigh

Hannah Leigh has been a volunteer and staff reporter, host, and digital producer for KGNU since 2012. She's also a professional podcast producer and freelance reporter.
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