At Cannabis Shops, Face Recognition Is Already a Thing

" 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-incarceration that 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.

In addition to tracking employees and controlling access, facial recognition is used in dispensaries at the point of sale for age-verification. A Las Vegas based company called 420 Cyber markets its Badass Budtender kiosk as a replacement for human “budtenders” who check ID at the register. The kiosks can be equipped with facial recognition to ensure customers are of legal age.

Inside dispensaries, facial recognition can do far more. 420 Cyber markets what it calls “Video Active Security Monitoring” (VASM), which it says can determine whether customers carry concealed weapons, if there are warrants for their arrest, and whether their appearance matches “be on the lookout” (BOLO) alerts issued by police. It can reportedly recognize A-list celebrities if they happen to visit your store."

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