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Facial Recognition Confirms Presence of Big Brother in Cannabis Space

Jessica McKeil
big brother is watching you text with an eye

It may begin under the guise of responsible business ownership but it’s invasive and potentially jeopardizes cannabis patients.

The next time you head into the dispensary, take note of their security. Maybe they have a security guard at the front door, maybe they’ve invested in advanced technologies. But what kind of technologies are we talking about? The kind that shows that Big Brother cannabis is here.

As first reported by Vice, several cannabis businesses are already relying on facial recognition technology, for instance, to keep their storefronts and warehouses secure. Walk up to the outside of these locations in the states of Arizona, Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, and Nevada. You’ll encounter a small camera scanning your face using AI technology. Are you a threat? Are you a customer? This Big Brother tech decides.

The Role of Facial Recognition in Cannabis Security

Just like you’d expect in some futuristic, dystopian society, where Big Brother is already in control, these cameras scan customers’ faces for information. Does your face match one already in a criminal database? If the algorithm is set off, you’ll be denied entry. If you match a customer file, you’ll enter.

It all sounds like an episode of Black Mirror; it’s not.

Blue Line Protection Group is one security technology firm moving into cannabis. They maintain that their technology keeps dispensaries safe, removes threats, and improves compliance measures. But, they do sound like something out of a science fiction dystopia.

big brother cannabis

According to a recent press release, Blue Line offers several services for the cannabis industry. These include “facial recognition, identification, and verification with threat detection and deterrence software.”

Through several recent agreements with other businesses (including a compliance company called Adherence Compliance), a rising number of storefronts will soon install Blue Line. This agreement has dramatically expanded their reach. As a result, you might soon see their facial recognition software popping up outside your local bud shop.

Don Deason, a representative of Blue Line, emphasized to Vice that this facial recognition technology is only useful for recognizing “known, unknown, or threat” categories of people. It wouldn’t, in theory, discriminate based on gender, race, or age.

However, one aspect of the technology is the ability of employees to tag individual customers in the system as risks. There’s nothing to stop humans from using the software unethically. Moreover, humans create the programs, and, in doing so, can introduce their own conscious or unconscious biases without even realizing it.

Using Technology Against the Most Vulnerable

The intentions behind this new wave of technology are, no doubt, pure. These technologies aim to reduce the risk of cannabis store robberies, for example. Or reduce the threat posed by problematic customers. Additionally, there is likely a motive to track sales and customer data.

But facial recognition at the local medicinal dispensary brings up uncomfortable feelings. It’s the creep of Big Brother into medicinal cannabis space — a space many patients want to protect from government eyes and Big Pharma meddling.

Another concern is the horrific past of the “war on drugs”. Legislators have a long history of discriminating against minorities when it comes to cannabis consumption. The numbers are clear. African Americans are still 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession than Caucasians. This is despite the fact that everyone uses about the same amount of the plant. Even in Canada, cannabis remains a very white industry. Sadly, the government is still targeting vulnerable groups for their plant medicine.

These detailed databases on customer information, including purchase history and now facial recognition files, are nerve-wracking. Could this information be used against the most vulnerable populations? Companies are trying to keep their businesses safe, but customers can only see the slow creep of Big Brother.

big brother cannabis

Is Big Brother’s Entry into the Cannabis Space Ethical? Legal?

The black market offered its customers discretion. A deal done out of a car in a mall parking lot didn’t require personal identification or facial scans. In those days, customers didn’t know anything about the dealer, and the dealer knew even less about the customer.

As the legal industry continues to grow, it’s evolving into an industry with layer upon layer of regulation and control. From seed to sale, the track and trace chain of paperwork is designed to keep us safe. These layers mean that you’ll know who grew the plant, who processed it, and have a sheet of third party test results to confirm its contents. 

Yet, if you flip the track and trace mandate, what does the industry know about you?

The one downfall to all this electronic tracking, AI, and growing data collection is the security risks they pose to the individual patient. Especially in the United States, where cannabis is still a federally scheduled substance, a data breach poses a significant danger to the patient.

What is to stop the federal government — should they choose — from accessing these facial recognition files?

The truth is that the industry is evolving rapidly in a very piecemeal manner. But few have considered how all the moving pieces play into each other, or how all those dominos could fall should one security company get hacked. Or, perhaps more severe, if the government chooses to crack down on cannabis medicine. After all, one only has to watch an episode of Black Mirror to know how quickly a benign technology could unravel into something ominous and dangerous.

Jessica McKeil
Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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