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Lagging Government Inspections: Are You Safe?

There’s been a great deal written about the legalization of marijuana in the states, much of it about potential tax revenues. But here’s an angle you probably haven’t become aware of. When cannabis is legal, outlets for its sale just add to the list of institutions that will need to be inspected.

The problem is that inspections in the nation’s cities are often backed up woefully, according to our latest column in Governing magazine. The list of places that legally require periodic inspections by government employees just starts with food stores, dairies, barber shops, elevators, dental offices, x-ray facilities and on and on and on.

We can recall being fascinated as children, in New York City, by the posted list of inspector’s signatures in every elevator around (they’re now available “on request,” not posted.) But it never occurred to us then that we were surrounded by a city full of inspectors who aimed at keeping us safe and sound.

As our Governing article says, “the dangers of insufficient coverage are very real. An outbreak of hepatitis in Oklahoma, for instance, emanated from an uninspected dental office. In December, some 36 lives were lost in the deadliest fire in the history of Oakland, California. Though cause and effect isn’t entirely clear, the California Grand Jurors’ Association reported that “two years before the . .. . fire, the Alameda County civil grand jury sounded the alarm about deficiencies in the Oakland Fire Department’s inspection bureau – saying the city wasn’t even trying to check a third of the 12,000 commercial properties that were supposed to be examined every year.”

Why aren’t there sufficient inspections? A shortage of staff, which is a byproduct of tight budgets.

One partial solution, offered by Ken Levine, the director of Texas’ Sunset Commission is that some required inspections may be overdoing it; regularly checking out facilities that rarely have problems. “He recommends that if a particular entity is inspected every two or three years,” we wrote, “and no violations are found over a 20-year period, it may well be reasonable to cut down on the required frequency.”


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