California Cannabis Enforcement and Age Limitations

One of the more clear aspects about cannabis law in California is age limitations. People can only enter dispensaries if they are 21 or up (for adult-use recreational customers) or 18 or up (for medical customers). The state affirmatively obligates retail licensees to verify that customers are the appropriate age before even letting them into a dispensary.

Sales of cannabis to minors can lead to serious penalties for cannabis licensees. Our cannabis lawyers in other states have seen enforcement actions based on minor sales before, so we only expect them to increase in the future. In this post, we’ll look at how the agencies will eventually be able to enforce minor-sales prohibitions in California.

What will inevitably happen (if it isn’t already happening) in California is that law enforcement will use “minor decoys” to verify compliance with age verification rules. The concept of minor decoys is actually baked into the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) regulations. Specifically, law enforcement may use persons under 21 to “attempt to purchase cannabis goods, for the purposes of enforcing [state law], and to apprehend licensees, employees, or agents of licensees who sell cannabis goods to minors.”

That said, law enforcement’s hands are tied to some degree in how they can use minor decoys. For example:

  • At the time of any operation, a minor decoy must be at least 20 years old. Using a decoy who is 18 or 19 still will not be permitted. This ultimately means that it will be much more difficult for law enforcement to prove that someone is not enforcing medical age verification rules that allow 18-year-old customers into dispensaries, given that persons under 18 couldn’t serve as decoys.
  • Decoys must carry their own government-issued identification with their correct birthday or no identification at all. If the decoy is asked for their identification, they have to give it to the seller. This means too that decoys can’t present “fake” forms of identification. If these rules are followed literally, then sellers should only violate the rules if they fail to ask for ID, fail to properly read ID, or just ignore the ID altogether.
  • Decoy are required to answer truthfully any questions about their age. Here too, the rules seem to prevent decoys from trying to bait a licensee into non-compliance with dishonesty.

These are not all of the requirements applicable to minor decoys, but the major ones. While this form of enforcement will inevitably be used, law enforcement will have to follow at least those procedures outlined above. If they don’t, then penalized licensees may have grounds to contest any sort of penalty or fine imposed on them by the state cannabis agencies (though it’s a bit less clear whether that would serve as a shield from any kind of prosecution).

As we’ve said for a long time, enforcement is inevitable in cannabis. Stay tuned to the Canna Law Blog for more developments on California’s enforcement regime.

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