Pot shops in Steamboat implement new verification systems after problems with fake IDs | SteamboatToday.com

Pot shops in Steamboat implement new verification systems after problems with fake IDs

Kevin Hohman, general manager at Rocky Mountain Remedies in Steamboat Springs, scans the barcode of an ID to ensure it’s legitimate. Since the beginning of the year, marijuana dispensaries in town have invested in new technologies to detect fake IDs.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Customers who visited the Golden Leaf marijuana dispensary in the last two weeks may have noticed a new check-in process at the front entrance. 

Employees there now use a black, handheld device to verify people’s ID, making sure the cards haven’t expired and, perhaps most importantly, are legitimate. 

Under state law, dispensary employees must check each customer’s ID to ensure they are 21 or older. But ensuring everyone is of the legal age to buy cannabis in Colorado can prove challenging. Fake IDs, popular among college kids, have become easier to obtain online and harder for even trained eyes to detect.

Back in January, Golden Leaf failed a compliance check from the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, according to Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen. An investigation is ongoing, but the division does not release information about its open cases.

Golden Leaf Anderson, the owner of his namesake dispensary, did not respond to multiple calls for comment.

Golden Leaf’s violation came as a surprise to Christensen, who has otherwise seen a strong commitment to follow state law among the three dispensaries in town. 

“They have no interest whatsoever in selling to underage people,” he said, based on conversations he has had with local pot shop owners.

And with good reason. Failing a compliance check can carry hefty consequences, far greater than the ones liquor stores receive if they flunk on similar checkups.

Fines for such violations can be as much as $100,000 for dispensaries, according to Shannon Gray, the marijuana communications specialist for Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. By comparison, the maximum fine for a liquor store if it fails a compliance check is $5,000. 

Gray points to discrepancy as a reason dispensaries report higher rates of compliance — around 96% — compared to liquor stores, which traditionally have an 89% compliance rate.

Since January, the dispensaries in town have ramped up their verification procedures to nab minors. Each business has its own process for verifying IDs and uses different technologies to do so.

Golden Leaf’s new scanner offers greater capabilities for checking IDs, which vary from state to state. The previous device only worked if an ID had a strip along the back, like that found on a credit card. Not all states use those strips.

Many states, including Colorado, put a barcode on the back of the card. The new device can scan that barcode and displays the customer’s age as well as the date the card expires. 

Those extra measures should come in handy during the busier tourist seasons, when dispensaries tend to see an influx of fake IDs.

Matt Kilby, head of operations at Billo, said it wasn’t unusual to confiscate as many as 15 fraudulent cards in a weekend this winter.

“It’s definitely more common in the tourist season with college groups coming in,” he said.

Employees at his dispensary use a trio of technologies to verify customer ages, including a device originally designed to detect counterfeit money. 

One of the most comprehensive procedures was at Rocky Mountain Remedies. There, employees utilize a scanner common at nightclubs, which, similar to the device at Golden Leaf, scans the barcode on the back of an ID card. It not only verifies a person’s age, but it also logs the number of times a person has visited the store that day and how much cannabis they purchased.

In Colorado, where the law sets limits on the amount of marijuana products a person can buy in a day, that data helps to prevent over-indulging.

In such a heavily regulated industry, Kevin Fisher, a co-owner of Rocky Mountain Remedies, sees having a retail marijuana license as a privilege, one he does not want to lose by selling to underage customers.

“Compliance is number one,” Fisher said. “The sales will come after that.”

As he explained, failing a compliance check carries greater consequences than the monetary fine. It can also hurt a dispensary’s chances of renewing its retail marijuana license or damage its reputation among local customers. 

“It’s definitely a lot bigger than just the fine,” he said. 

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