Emerald Haze Cannabis Emporium recently served a 15-day suspension for sale to a minor from December 2017, along with a $2,500 fine. The store was closed from Nov. 1 to Nov. 16.
The suspension comes a year later due to owner and director of operations Miles Alexander working to reduce the penalty on account of mitigating circumstances. Alexander said Emerald Haze has since revamped its security to some of the strictest in the local industry.
“I sleep good at nights now. It’s never going to happen again, never. Unless there’s some conspiracy against me,” Alexander said.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board spokesperson Mikhail Carpenter said the suspension was due to failing two compliance checks within a three-year period. A first violation will usually result in a 10-day suspension and $2,500 fine, with 30-days for the second.
“Ultimately the board’s goal is not to be punitive so much as we need licenses to be in compliance,” Carpenter said. “So typically if a licensee shows willingness to change their practices, whether that’s looking at additional security or adding card scanners or something like that, the board may reduce penalty on a violation.”
Alexander said on Dec. 20, 2017 the control board had an under-aged operative with their real license approach the store. The security guard at the door did not check the identification, which was their real, vertical license. The operative was then able to purchase from the Emerald Haze employee running the counter who, according to Emerald Haze, didn’t look at the license well.
The first violation was under previous partners, Alexander said, so she said she wasn’t aware of it. The first violation occurred in May 2016 for sale or service to a minor.
“We decided to make things a lot different, and we learned a lot of hard lessons from that (second violation),” Alexander said. “We had flyers telling (customers) about it, that, yes, we have a violation and it took me a long, hard year to get it lower. People were very supportive and understanding of my thing, very excited to support us and feel this store is like home.”
During the 15-day suspension period, Emerald Haze remodeled their store, which has been visited by the likes of Snoop Dog, Anthony Bourdain and Bone Thugs n Harmony, to what Alexander called “industrial chic,” and held sales before and after the closure.
The employee who failed to check the license relied on the security guard to check, Alexander said in regards to the second violation. She said she will take half the blame, and that the security company should take the other half. She also said a former manager did not give the cashier proper training.
On their website and on flyers, Emerald Haze stated that “Blue Star Security Inc. Service was responsible for the violation; we replaced them.” Carpenter, spokesperson for the LCB, said the security service is not part of the violation, and only the licensed store is liable for an illegal sale.
“Whether or not they have a security company at their front door, the reality is the person behind the counter, the employee of the business, sold marijuana to somebody who is not of legal age,” he said.
Blue Star security director Michael James said they took collaborative steps following the violation to better Emerald Haze’s security and eliminate violations.
James said they offered Emerald Haze the idea to purchase a card scanner for the door, and worked with them until July 2018 when they parted on good terms.
This was the first and only store Blue Star checked IDs for, and now do primarily site security for outside and inside businesses. James said Alexander made a very responsible step hiring outside security, and that both their companies are good, honest companies. But he said he won’t distance himself from that honest mistake of an employee.
“It’s a learning process, we had only been there a month and then we took steps to correct it,” James said.
A big part of security’s job is also to keep an eye out on surveillance, since it’s a cash-only business, which adds multiple layers to security responsibilities. Haze now has five in-house security employees, and increased their emergency security measures during the 15-day suspension.
Alexander said additional security measures include the card scanner, point-of-sale system that makes a cashier enter a customer birth date before the till can open, and no longer allowing anyone with a vertical license to enter the store.
“Granted there’s some cost there, but it’s almost a fool-proof method to keep you from selling to a minor,” Pamela, business operations manager of Emerald Haze said of not accepting vertical licenses. “A lot of people stopped taking them, so we’ve stopped taking them.”
Pamela said they’ve had to become squeaky clean, both in sales and with employees. Emerald Haze now keeps four binders with the printed out legislative code for I-502 marijuana retail stores, distributed throughout their office and store, so employees can check things they have questions on.
“We needed this because when I came back we had same store management I trusted, but, I was being misinformed, so I said, you know what, look up the code yourself, that’s the only way,” Alexander said. “We see LCB as our partners in helping us navigate a very complex, bureaucratic, heavy handed rules and regulation system. They’ve been allies more than anything else. If in doubt we call them.”
The board have also led Emerald Haze employees license trainings, Alexander said.
Alexander, who formerly worked in the medical marijuana industry, said she hopes to see the stereotypes of the industry go away, and for folks to see marijuana retailers as a better neighbor than a tavern in 15 years.
Pamela said it was a strange shock to come into this business where they can’t subtract their expenses, due to federal law still making marijuana illegal. Alexander said the business might look lucrative from the outside, but inside, with the tax structure, regulations, constant surveillance, it really leaves the only ones in this business the cannabis believers — the folks who think it can truly benefit a community.
“I don’t think it’s for everybody, nothing is for everybody, but I think it’s an alternative to very dangerous things like alcohol and opiates, psychotropics, antidepressants,” Alexander said. “In medical, I had people tell me about their quality of life improving. It’s not a miracle or a cure, but it makes the intolerable, tolerable. I ain’t making much money, I’ll tell you that.”