Study Finds California Dispensaries Don’t Adequately Screen Minors
Marijuana dispensaries are not allowed to sell cannabis products in California if they know the buyer is a minor. This measure was implemented with the intention of protecting children from exposure to marijuana-related marketing, but it hasn’t worked as well as policymakers thought it would because minors still have access within state limits and can purchase on behalf of an adult at any dispensary location that will allow them inside.
A new study in JAMA Pediatrics evaluates how these regulations designed to protect minors have held up five years after voters legalized cannabis. But the study, reported on by Mirage, shows that the regulations have not been as effective as most would have hoped.
The study revealed that many dispensaries in California do not have strict policies to prevent minors from entering their facilities. These retail locations often allow children to browse an assortment of products, which violates the law by selling them items meant for adults only.
“Our data shows that youth can potentially be exposed to cannabis marketing and products despite California appearing to have tight laws,” said study co-author Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, a fellow at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and Elizabeth Garrett Chair in Health Policy, Economics and Law at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
“As more states legalize cannabis, we need better mechanisms, including funding and agency authority for random compliance checks, to ensure that regulations are being followed — just as we did with tobacco.”
Cannabis Dispensaries Loosely Follow Minor-protection Regulations
California state law requires dispensaries to ensure that they do not allow minors in before the age limit. This can be done by having clear signage and ID checkpoints, which may either be on the exterior or interior of their building.
Trained researchers visited dispensaries in California and observed the processes to screen for age. They assessed whether there were clear signs that required verified ID, if IDs were checked or not asked for at all, and exposure of cannabis marketing materials like posters on storefronts.
Only 12% of dispensaries checked IDs before entering and nearly 68% failed to comply with age-limit signage. Most dispensaries required proof only after entering where cannabis marketing materials and products were present.
“The low rate of compliance with age-limit signage and exterior ID checkpoints means it is easier for minors to enter cannabis dispensaries,” said lead author and study principal investigator Yuyan Shi, one of the associate professors at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California, San Diego. “Once they’re inside, whether it is accidental or not, they can see an array of cannabis marketing materials and products.”
This study found that dispensaries had items targeted at teens and children on site. This included promotional deals, first-time purchase discounts, free samples for takeaways (e.g., edibles), as well as lacking compliance with bans of consuming products on-site or in public spaces like sidewalks/lawns (e.g., smoking).
Beter Screening Practices are Essential
In California, dispensary compliance checks are not mandated. However, many local authorities lack the resources to conduct them regularly.
“While some dispensaries may be following the letter of the law with ID checks, they are not following the spirit of the law that intends to keep minors away from cannabis marketing and promotion of products,” Pacula said.
As legal recreational cannabis use is passed in additional states, Shi and Pacula recommend mandated random compliance checks on dispensaries. They also suggest imposing monetary penalties for non-compliant dispensaries to increase the likelihood of adherence to regulations.
“Tobacco sales help fund random compliance checks for retailers in that industry,” Shi said. “States looking to legalize, or those that have legalized already, should follow a similar process where they allocate tax revenue from cannabis sales to ensure compliance checks are being done regularly.”
The study was supported by grant 27IR-0014 from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program and grant R01DA042290 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.