Cali Dispensaries Harvesting Customer Data Raises Questions

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Remember back in the day when you’d wait all day for a call back from a weed dealer, then you’d meet up at some inconvenient location to make the exchange only to discover as you walked away that he had just sold you a 5.5 gram “quarter”?

That feeling of getting pinched was always horrible. These days, some legal recreational cannabis dispensaries in California might not be pinching your sack of bud but they are pinching your personal info in a move that could have very bad consequences for their customers.

The Sacramento Bee is reporting that a poll of all recreational cannabis dispensaries located in the areas surrounding Fresno County revealed that every single one was keeping some sort of individual profile on every customer – including info like their name, address, contact info, government ID numbers, and even their purchase history.

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When confronted on the apparent invasion of privacy, most of the dispensary employees tried to pawn the practice off as a requirement of Prop 64 (it isn’t), or spit shine it as a “customer convenience” (it definitely isn’t).

Expanding the inquiry, an employee at The Green Door in San Fran said that the only way a customer can be rung up is if they have a profile with the store.

The same sentiment was repeated over and over as more Cali cannabis shops were hit up for comment.

A lot of these shops are holdovers from the Prop215/SB420 Medical Marijuana era in California when the ambiguous language of the laws led to a muddying of the definitions of - and differences between - collectives, cooperatives, and dispensaries. As a result, they are used to having new “members” or “patients” fill out pages of paperwork on their first visit.

The fact of the matter is that Prop 64, the law passed in 2016 that “legalized” the recreational sale and use of cannabis in California absolutely does not require this level of data collection at the retail level.

Alex Traverso is the chief of communications for California's Bureau of Cannabis Control and he lays it out clearly, stating, "The state doesn't require that retail locations collect the personal information of customers. In our regulations, it says nothing of the sort."

The same is true in Colorado where state officials say that buying weed in a dispensary should mimic buying a beer in a convenience store.

In Oregon, they got proactive and put language in their cannabis reform laws expressly banning the collection and retention of customer data.

So, yes, part of the problem is Cali pot shops clutching onto old Prop215 habits, but let’s be real…companies collect data because personal data is quickly becoming a new form of currency in the world of marketing and advertising.

They can make claims of “customer convenience” but those contact lists are worth their weight in gold to the right sales and marketing guru and somewhere in those pages and pages of paperwork that you are furiously scribbling your initials on, you are probably signing away your right to get upset about them turning your info into a commodity.

But getting annoying “Buy 1 Get 1 Free on Our Mids Blue Dream” emails is just one example of how this unnecessary data harvesting could backfire.

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If you are a cannabis user, you may or may not be aware but your rights as a gun owner are severely impacted.

In 2011, the ATF notified gun dealers that cannabis users were prohibited from buying firearms.

This was challenged almost immediately when, in 2011, a Nevada woman named S. Rowan Wilson tried to purchase a gun after she had obtained her medical marijuana card. The store refused to sell her the weapon, citing the ATF statute, and she sued. In 2016 the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals shot her case down, effectively setting the precedent that she – and all cannabis users – had voided her Second Amendment right to own a firearm.

In December of 2017, the Honolulu Police Department issued a statement ordering all registered medical marijuana users to turn in their firearms within 30 days. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the order was rescinded, but you can see how dangerous it can be to have your name and purchase history on a “list” when it comes to federally banned substances.

It is important that you know your rights as a consumer in all walks of life, but you should pay particular attention when it comes to cannabis. If you are not comfortable with the amount of info that is required at a dispensary to get through the back door and into the budroom, walk right out the front door.


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