Doug Ford says pot shops are secretly collecting customer data

Published Jan 28, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / MangoStar_Studio

We have already touched lightly on a few of the reasons that ID scanning at a cannabis dispensary should be cause for concern, but it turns out that there is far more going on than meets the eye. Getting ID checked for making a purchase of substances like alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis is an expected and accepted way of keeping harmful elements out of the hands of youth, but ID scanning is a new tool that weed shop owners are using at their own discretion.

These devices are manufactured by a range of different companies, but they are all designed to do essentially the same thing. A quick scan of a driver’s licenses or other photo identification, and if the screen lights up green, it’s real, and if it shows up red, then that means it’s fake. The new scanning tool takes the guesswork out of assessing the realness of an ID which sounds like a great thing at first and is very much the angle that most dispensary owners take when defending its use, but most of them can do something else with that scan.

It would be nice to believe that every weed shop out there is running a transparent and reliable business, but most consumers aren’t told of a dirty little secret, and as it turns out, there is plenty going on in the background as these machines check an individuals ID. Sure, they obviously look for legitimacy, and that’s a great thing, but they are also doing something that some of the biggest online giants like Facebook do, which is harvesting and storing your data for unknown reasons.

What does Doug Ford have to say about ID scanning?

Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford has raised some of the most recent concerns with ID scanning practices when he stated that we have to monitor sales of cannabis products and that this is merely an effective way of doing so. This after recommendations from Canadian experts and lawyers urging the public to buy pot from a dispensary in cash and in person, so that purchases cannot be tracked and used against you. The two conflicting statements have consumer’s everywhere wondering how this can be legal and if they have any obligation to follow through with such a request.

Is that legal?

It seems that this is a grey area that falls under the same kind of umbrella and receipt requests from Walmart. A retail practice that has recently come under fire for its misuse as a tool to discriminate against unknowing consumers. Just like in that case, you are not legally obligated to pass off your ID or to allow it to be scanned. You must only show it to prove that you are of legal age. The trouble is that most consumers are not aware of this, and those that are, don’t want to risk the possibility of being turned away.

The only real way that these tools could break federal rules or regulations would be if the dispensary was to take the information that they received and sell it or use it for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, there is no overseeing agency checking in with your local weed shop to see what they do with this sensitive information, so the focus is on the companies themselves to maintain strict standards of operating.


Why is this a problem?

Customers have every reason to feel uneasy about a release of this kind of information, many of which align with the idea of buying cannabis off the books to protect yourself from a paper trail. We have literally no idea who is collecting this information or what they are doing with it, and if it were to fall into the wrong hands, it could be used to hurt customers. Sure, some could be following the strictest security steps, but those can fail, and what happens when one doesn’t?

So far, there have yet to be any legal implications for those who have been caught storing dispensary customer information, but if it were to get out, one of the most glaring problems could be travel restrictions, as has happened in the past with information like bank statements. Since marijuana is still illegal in most of the United States, border control can and has been restricting or revoking entry permission from those who admit to or are found to have a connection with cannabis use.

Though the possibilities and implications of a security breach have yet to be fully understood, the biggest problem that most customers have is that they haven’t been warned that this is taking place. Most locations that currently use this kind of tool do so at will, and from what we can tell, absolutely none of them warn consumers that their private information is being logged and stored, and we don’t just mean your ID.

These machines can track who you are, sensitive information based on your ID like where you live, where you buy your weed, how often you buy it, and how much you use, all of which could be used against you by different people, and that is a terrifying thought to many cannabis enthusiasts who do not wish for these kinds of stats to become public knowledge. That is why lawyers and experts everywhere are recommending that customers deny any scanning of identification, and if owners or vendors don’t like it, you will rest easier knowing that you are safer if you find another weed shop to buy from instead.

Cannabis information is now available to parents and children through Kids Help Phone


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