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Eugene retailers produce 'abysmal' rate of sales to underage decoys

buy2 store downtown Eugene
Brian Bull
The "Buy2" store at Broadway and Olive in downtown Eugene was one of 17 Eugene/Springfield area retailers who sold alcohol to underage buyers during a recent decoy operation, according to the OLCC.

A recent decoy operation to see if Eugene-area retailers would sell alcohol to minors yielded the worst results in the decades-old program.

Over two days this summer, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission sent 18-to-20-year-olds into more than two dozen stores in the Eugene and Springfield area. The result: nearly two-thirds of them sold alcohol to the underage, undercover buyers.

That’s an abysmal rate, said OLCC spokesperson Bryant Haley. He said the agency plans to step up compliance checks and is considering an increase in the penalty for selling alcohol to underage buyers.

“That is not the way the agency wants to go," he said. "But to get attention to the industry sometimes, that’s a lever that the commissioners can pull to gain compliance on this very serious public health and public safety issue.”

Haley said compliance checks re-started last spring after a two-year interruption due to the pandemic.

With a compliance rate of just 35%, the Lane County stores achieved the dubious distinction of having the lowest compliance rate of any decoy operation since the state started minor decoy operations in the 1990's, according to OLCC director Steve Marks.

By comparison, recent decoy operations in Medford, Hood River and The Dalles yielded compliance rates between 67% and 85%.

Meanwhile, a decoy operation last month in Polk county yielded a compliance rate of 88%, which the OLCC called "the best result so far."

The statewide average compliance rate is 63%.

When the minor decoy program was revived in May, the OLCC—with state funding—switched from using volunteers to using paid employees. But otherwise, the program largely works the same way as it did, pre-pandemic.

"Eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds walk in with their ID, their bona fide ID that was issued by the state of Oregon," said Haley. "They hand that over to try to purchase alcohol products. They are not allowed to disguise their age, they're not allowed to lie about it, they're not allowed to use a fake ID."

An OLCC inspector waits outside the business to observe the results.

"Once the sale is made, the permittee is confronted," said Haley.

The employee as well as the license-holder are both subject to fines and penalties for a violation.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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