7 Denver Pot Shops Sold to Underage Persons: Boozy Double Standard?

The Denver Police Department has revealed that seven pot shops were caught selling marijuana to a person under age 21 in a recent compliance sweep; we've got the details.

The DPD was clearly aiming to make a big splash with the announcement, and it's succeeded, with news operations throughout the city giving high-profile play to the development.

However, it's important to put these violations into context.

Note that the illicit transactions stand out in large part because they represent the first major violations since recreational marijuana sales became legal on January 1, 2014 — an impressive run.

Moreover, these kinds of things happen all the time in regard to establishments selling alcohol to minors — and they seldom get much attention. Examples below.

There's also something here for conspiracy theorists. The City of Denver is currently negotiating with proponents of the Limited Social Marijuana Consumption Initiative, who withdrew their proposal from the November 2015 ballot earlier this month even though it seemed very likely to pass. It doesn't take much of an imagination to envision officials attempting to use the fresh batch of citations as leverage to win more compromises from backers of the pot bar concept.

Here are the basics of the latest operation according to the DPD.

On September 25, the department's vice-and-drug-control bureau, joined by criminal investigators with the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), checked underage-sales compliance at thirty pot shops. Of those, seven received citations: The Herbal Cure, The Healing House, Pure Medical Dispensary, LaContes Clone Bar, Herbs 4 You 20, Mile High Green Cross and Higher Expectations.

Here's a Google Map assembled by 7News that shows the locations of the businesses.

What could happen to the shops in question? "The range of penalties for this category of violation may include license suspension, a fine per individual violation, a fine in lieu of suspension of up to $100,000, and/or license revocation depending on the mitigating and aggravating circumstances," the DPD release divulges. "Sanctions may also include restrictions on the license."

MED director Lewis Koski's statement about the performance reads: "We are disappointed. Up until now these compliance checks have been a bright spot for the industry. This recent check drops compliance to 92 percent. Even though there have not been any repeat violations at the same licensed premises, this represents a downward trend in compliance that is concerning.”

Rule-following in this arena has indeed been stellar to date. In a June 24, 2014 article, the Denver Post pointed out that no marijuana stores were found to be in violation after a similar check, and we found no other reports of violations between now and then.

In the meantime, bars, restaurants and other establishments that sell alcohol have had some spotty performances over the years when it comes to underage sales.

A 2006 Post piece points out that of 21 liquor stores and bars checked in a compliance operation, eleven failed — yet the paper devoted just five relatively modest sentences to the story. Six years later, in 2012, Westword's Patricia Calhoun did a considerably more thorough job in reporting about another compliance operation. In that case, nine out of 53 businesses received citations. (We've included the DPD document from that sting below.) However, the news hardly dominated other local media outlets.

Granted, the thought that bars and liquor stores might sell to minors isn't as novel as the idea of pot shops doing likewise, especially given the dearth of previous violations. The result is a wake-up call to the cannabis industry — and a reminder that what might be of small interest in other businesses is capable of causing a big stir in this one. If it's about pot, it'll make big news.

Here's the aforementioned document about the 2012 liquor sting.

Liquor Sting 10.19.12

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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