Business is good at a trio of marijuana retailers in Thurston County that operate under the banner of “420.”
There’s 420 Carpenter near Lacey, 420 West off Madrona Beach Road in west Olympia, and most recently 420 Capitol in Tumwater, all of which employ about 60. The Carpenter location, which has expanded into 5,000 square feet of space since it first opened, is the 7th highest grossing pot retailer in the state, according to 502data.com, an industry website that tracks sales information.
Since March, the store has been generating more than $700,000 in sales per month, the data show.
But after taxation, banking and advertising, you can add a new concern for the operators of 420: The prevalence of minors using fake identification to buy marijuana, particularly at its west side store, said Anthony Knightstep, general manager of the business.
And any misstep on their part, which results in a sale to a minor, can come with some serious consequences, he said. Three sales-to-minor violations and the business will lose its license, Knightstep said.
Knightstep recently addressed the West Olympia Business Association about the 420 operation and its concerns about fake IDs. In follow-up comments to The Olympian, Knightstep said they encounter fake IDs daily at 420 West, possibly because of its location near The Evergreen State College.
They have a collection of fake IDs from Florida, Connecticut and Illinois. They would have more, he said, but even a fake ID is considered personal property, so if the person asks for it back, it is returned, he said.
“We have to be ridiculously thorough,” said Knightstep about checking IDs.
He said one of the challenges is that fake IDs have become more sophisticated, leading employees to ask creative questions. Knightstep didn’t want to disclose all of those questions, but he said he sometimes quizzes cardholders on state capitals. If it’s a fake ID from Illinois, and the customer answers “Chicago,” that customer is shown the door. (The capital of Illinois is Springfield).
They also check for whether the card has a hologram, and look for discoloration or oversize images — both signs that the card might be fake, he said.
The state Liquor and Cannabis Board does not track fake identification data, but they do provide some education on spotting fake IDs and have regular compliance checks to make sure pot retailers aren’t just asking if customers are old enough, but checking IDs, spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said.
And that’s a key distinction, he said.
“Asking is not the same as checking,” Carpenter said.
After the Washington state marijuana industry got under way about three years ago, compliance efforts ramped up in July 2015, he said. Since then, there have been 227 failed compliance checks, compared to more than 1,300 successful checks. March and April were good months, with 98 percent compliance among pot retailers, although it’s typically in the range of 92-95 percent, Carpenter said.
He said they use minors as part of their compliance efforts, and they are not deceptively disguised to look older than they really are.
“We hire teenagers who look their age,” he said.
If the teen is asked, “Are you 21?” they are allowed to answer “Yes,” because an underage customer trying to purchase pot would likely say the same in that situation.
However, the check shouldn’t stop there. “Simply asking their age is not enough,” he said.
The undercover minors carry their own legal ID, or none at all.
“We don’t want to trick licensees,” Carpenter said. “We want you to sell responsibly and not make those sales at all.”
A first-time offense for a business is a $2,500 fine or a 10-day suspension of operations. If it happens again within three years, it’s a 30-day suspension. And if it happens one more time within three years, the license is canceled.
The person who sells to the minor can get hit with a Class C felony, which can result in a $10,000 fine or as long as 10 years in prison. However, that penalty is at the discretion of the prosecutor, Carpenter said.