Some provinces plan to hire teens for marijuana sting operations

A woman walks into a marijuana dispensary on Granville Street on June 20, 2018, in Vancouver. GETTY IMAGES

Four provinces are planning to launch sting operations against marijuana retailers to test whether they’re keeping underage customers out of their stores.

B.C., Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador all forbid people under 19 from buying or trying to buy cannabis, but carve out an exception for teens hired by an enforcement authority to try and find retailers selling pot to minors. .

The programs would be similar to those run for years in several provinces to find retailers who sell tobacco or alcohol to underage customers.

They would also be similar to one run by Oregon’s liquor authority, which regularly sends minors to legal marijuana stores there, and publishes the results. Over nine days in January, officials sent underage shoppers into 70 marijuana stores across the state. (Pass rates varied from 60 per cent to 100 per cent, depending on the region. )

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Test shoppers have to use their own real ID, and are not allowed to lie. (A retailer who wants to follow the law should find it easy: Oregon driver’s licences for youths are marked in red with “Under 21 until:” and the holder’s 21st birthday.)

WATCH: Health officials in Australia have turned to a human-sized sloth in effort to raise awareness among teens “of the risks and consequences of using recreational cannabis.”

Colorado also sends underage shoppers into marijuana stores; the compliance rate is around 95 per cent.

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Saskatchewan plans a version of the program they now use for alcohol, using “contract minors,” says David Morris of the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

“We hire contract minors to go into liquor-permitted establishments to ensure that they’re being checked for ID and that alcohol is not being sold,” he explains. “With cannabis, we’ll have the same ability to do that.”

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As in Oregon, Saskatchewan’s test shoppers aren’t allowed to “mislead or persuade,” or use fake IDs. A liquor inspector “is there to intervene if there was a situation,” Morris says.

Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador’s cannabis retail will be run by the private sector, while Nova Scotia’s will be run out of government-run liquor stores, and B.C. will be a mixture of public and private.

Nova Scotia doesn’t actually plan to use its new power, provincial spokesperson Andrew Preeper said in an email.

“Nova Scotia is selling cannabis solely through the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation,” he wrote. “The NSLC does its own compliance work, so this provision is not required at the present time.”

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The clause was included “in case our model were to evolve,” Preeper wrote.

“We felt it was prudent to include, even if there are no immediate plans to make use of that clause.”

In any province, test shoppers would have to be 18, and not younger, to avoid running afoul of the federal minimum age of 18. The concept wouldn’t work in Quebec and Alberta, where the provincial minimum age is 18, unless federal law was changed to allow for it.

Fines for selling pot to someone who’s provincially underage vary from a $10,000 fine in N.L. to a $50,000 fine in B.C. There is also a chance of jail. Saskatchewan allows for a fine of up to $100,000 for a corporation.

WATCH: A new study suggests smoking pot may be much worse for teens’ health than previously thought

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