At Cannabis Dispensaries, Facial Recognition Software Is Already a Thing. What About Privacy Issues?

A rather worrying report via Vice who report, “Dispensaries are adopting in-store surveillance systems to protect profits. Experts warn it’s a ‘slippery slope’ to discrimination.” Privacy issues and cannabis, are, without a doubt, on the rise.

Mason Marks law professor at Gonzaga University writes…

As you approach the machine, in-store cameras feed images to algorithms that analyze your appearance to determine if you might be carrying a weapon, and compare your face to millions of photos in a law enforcement database. When you finally reach the kiosk, it scans your face, identifies you as a returning customer, and greets you with a coupon for your favorite cannabis product.

This may sound like a scene from a sci-fi movie, but these tools are employed in cannabis dispensaries today. The cannabis industry is embracing new technologies like facial recognition and advanced video analytics throughout the supply chain—from grow rooms and processing facilities to distribution centers and retail dispensaries. The companies behind the technology say it benefits cannabis businesses, employees, and consumers. But in an industry marred by decades of mass-incarcerationthat has discriminated against communities of color, face surveillance poses serious privacy risks, and can easily be used for targeted harassment.

“It is hard, if not impossible, to find an example of a surveillance technology that has not been turned against groups that are already vulnerable in our structurally inequitable system,” said Shankar Narayan, Director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the ACLU of Washington, in an interview with Motherboard. Although legal for medical or recreational use in 33 states, cannabis remains illegal under federal law. Because it occupies a legal grey area, banks are hesitant to touch the industry, making it primarily an all-cash business and an attractive target for thieves. In Denver, Colorado, alone, there were 34 reported dispensary robberies in the first half of 2019.

Some tech companies see the risk of theft as an opportunity to sell facial recognition systems. Don Deason, VP of Sales for Blue Line Technology, claims his company’s platform has significantly reduced cannabis robberies. It works like this: When customers approach the front door of a dispensary, audiovisual cues prompt them to look up at a camera. If they comply, the system records an image of their faces, and the front door opens. If they decline or their faces are obscured, by a mask for example, then access is denied.

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