Given that the cannabis industry is relatively new, numerous individuals are well-acquainted with the rigorous compliance protocols associated with cannabis. To prevent underage customers from accessing products, cannabis vendors in the United States must adhere to various regulations established by state cannabis authorities, including verifying customer identification.
According to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, there is new insight into how dispensaries adhere to regulations. The study discovered that adult-use retailers in five American cities were in complete compliance with the laws requiring customers to display evidence and identification of being of legal age.
The authors of the study explained in the abstract that the surveillance of cannabis retail is imperative to establish regulations and safeguard consumers as the industry continues to grow in the United States. The study conducted point-of-sale evaluations to assess adherence to regulatory compliance, including signage, age verification, promotional tactics, and products and pricing.
Cannabis Compliance: Warning Signage, ID Verification, and Appeal to Minors.
During the summer of 2022, a group of researchers associated with the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University performed point-of-sale assessments. The survey was on 150 recreational dispensaries chosen randomly in five cities, with 30 dispensaries audited in each city. The cities included Los Angeles, Denver, Portland, Las Vegas, and Seattle.
The study revealed that the compliance rates for age verification were high, exceeding 90%. Additionally, the majority of retailers had signs indicating limited access (87.3%), prohibition of sales to minors (53.3%), and on-site consumption (73.3%). Most vendors also displayed warnings about the use of cannabis while nursing and during pregnancy (72%), followed by the impact on children and adolescents (18.7%), then health risks (38%), and driving under the influence (14%).
On the other hand, a proportion of retailers displayed health claims about cannabis (28.7%), while others had products with “youth-oriented packaging” (18%) or “youth-oriented signage” (20.7%).
Other Marketing, Signage, and Product Findings
In addition, the study examined other types of information typically displayed and promoted in dispensaries. Price promotions were widespread, particularly in terms of price specials (75.3%), followed by daily, weekly, and monthly deals (66.7%), and signage related to membership programs (39.3%).
Approximately one-fourth of the dispensaries surveyed had advertisements and promotions regarding curbside delivery/pickup (28%) and/or online ordering (25.3%). Furthermore, website and social media promotions were present in 64.7% of the surveyed stores. Lastly, the researchers delved into the product assortment offered by the retailers. E-liquids (38%) and oils (24.7%) were the most common cannabis products, while edibles (53%) were the most frequently offered and considered the least potent product.
The study found that the most expensive product offered by dispensaries was typically flowers and buds (58%), whereas joints (54%) were the cheapest. Furthermore, over 81% of retailers sold vaporizers, rolling papers, and glass, such as hookahs, water pipes, and bongs. In addition, 22.6% of dispensaries sell CBD products.
Results Reflect Previous Compliance Data
According to the investigators, marketing tactics varied across cities, indicating disparities in state-specific regulations as well as differences in enforcement and compliance. The findings highlight the necessity of continuously monitoring cannabis retail to inform future enforcement and regulatory actions.
Reviewing the study’s findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano emphasized that regulation works. In a blog post for NORML, Armentano stated that unlicensed marijuana providers do not require or verify identification, but licensed businesses certainly do. He added that the actual implementation of marijuana legalization in various states demonstrates that these policies can be enforced to provide legal access for adults while also preventing juvenile access and abuse.
The findings regarding age verification compliance are in line with prior studies. For instance, a study from 2022 that examined the California market discovered that dispensaries adhered strictly to the ID policy, with all the randomly selected retailers achieving complete compliance.
According to the authors, it seems that licensed recreational marijuana establishments in California refrain from selling marijuana to minors. One explanation for this may be the strong incentive for owners and managers of these establishments to avoid illegal activities that could result in their closure.
The study mentioned above also proposed that cannabis regulatory agencies and law enforcement officials should conduct research to examine whether minors try to enter cannabis retailers with fake IDs. They should also determine whether minors obtain cannabis from illicit outlets or other means.
In August 2022, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division released a bulletin revealing that, out of over 190 compliance checks that employed underage operatives, only four companies in the state sold cannabis to those individuals, indicating a compliance rate of 98%.
Comparable studies conducted in other states where cannabis is legal, such as Colorado, have reported similar outcomes.
As stated in a report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February, the proportion of high school students who report consuming cannabis regularly has gradually declined in the last ten years.
The studies and reports discussed above indicate that licensed cannabis retailers in the US are largely compliant with regulations aimed at preventing underage access to cannabis. The high rates of age verification and restricted access signage in dispensaries across different cities suggest that regulations can be implemented effectively to limit youth access and misuse while providing regulated access for adults.
However, the studies also emphasize the necessity of continual enforcement and surveillance to guarantee ongoing compliance. Monitoring and regulating dispensaries’ advertising, marketing, and product-selection methods will be essential as the cannabis sector develops to prevent appealing to audiences under 18. State representatives, dispensary owners, and cannabis enforcement organizations must work closely together to accomplish this.
In addition to these regulatory and enforcement efforts, it is essential to continue educating the public about the potential risks and benefits of cannabis use. Education can help prevent the misuse of cannabis by both youth and adults and ensure that those who choose to use cannabis do so safely and responsibly.
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