Oregon’s recreational cannabis industry strives, and often succeeds, in following the letter of the law. When growers, producers, and dispensaries face judgment, it’s on two fronts—the electronic public square of social media, and the more fearsome regulatory agency smackdown, which can add stiff financial penalties to the scarlet “C” of public opinion.
But what constitutes an infraction? Is it something intentional and deliberate—like shipping 300 pounds of weed to Ohio—or something that could just be a matter of lazy record keeping, or even legitimate confusion regarding the complex system of frequently changing rules and regulations that make up our cannabis tracking system?
Recently, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) has been bringing the hammer down hard on a few cannabis businesses in Oregon, imposing fines of thousands of dollars, and—perhaps of greater financial impact—suspending or revoking their licenses. (The OLCC keeps a record of violators in their online News Room.) It’s true that the agency is tasked with enforcing the rules, and that enforcement helps keep bible-thumpin’ retro racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions from interfering in our cannabis programs.
But sometimes the punishment doesn’t always fit the “crime,” with fines imposed for small infractions such as neglecting to tag plants. This seems like a situation where a first-time warning would make more sense than a hefty fine, because it’s not as if those untagged and potentially immature plants are going rise up to kill you and your entire family while you sleep. The fines aren’t matter of public safety, but rather one of raising revenue.
In Colorado, cannabis regulation enforcement of recently took a complex turn for the Sweet Leaf chain of dispensaries. The Denver Post produced a great piece on how the dispensary powerhouse took a major blow after a year-long investigation by the Denver Police Department.
Sweet Leaf was wildly successful, with 300 employees producing more than $5 million a month in sales from more than 25 dispensaries, and plans for expansion into other states. They were also smoking their competitors, selling nearly four times the amount of flower per day as other dispensaries—6.75 pounds on average. Investigators allege this was due to some customers engaging in a practice known in the industry as “looping”: buying more than the legal limit of cannabis allowed by returning repeatedly to the same dispensary and making multiple purchases in a short period of time.
In Oregon, non-medical consumers are allowed to purchase one ounce per day. It’s the same in Colorado, except the rules were originally written as: “A Retail Marijuana Store and its employees are prohibited from selling more than one ounce of retail marijuana flower... during a sales transaction to a consumer.” According to one of the rules’ authors, “To be frank, it did not occur to us on the task force to impose any per-day limits.” Oh, Frank. What a difference a “day” makes!
Eventurally the language was clarified, and rules stating a limit of one ounce per consumer per day was established, with a start date of January 1, 2018.
Officials determined that from June 2016 to December 2017, Sweet Leaf made 2,721 “looper sales” to 227 persons, which were undoubtedly re-sold in other states. No one has that many friends in need, indeed.
According to police, one customer made 24 trips to the same dispensary in four hours, and another purchased 41 one-ounce containers from the same location in a single day. (“Are you a member of our rewards program, sir?” “Jesus, Zach, it’s me again. Stop smoking on your shift, bro.”)
Sweet Leaf’s lawyers point out that at the time of the sales, the “per day” limits were not yet in place. Police raided Sweet Leaf just weeks before the new limits took effect, effectively charging them for a violation of rules not yet in effect. Future crimes! Or rather, future regulatory compliance violations.
The case is ongoing, without any indictments issued, and virtually all charges against the budtenders arrested have been dismissed. But Denver’s marijuana policy chief is moving to revoke Sweet Leaf’s 24 dispensary licenses in Denver, and state regulators have suspended three additional licenses.