Should marijuana users in California be concerned about the possibility of being charged with a crime by the federal government?
That was the provocative question posed by a reader after we published Pot 101, an article outlining everything you can and can’t legally do under Proposition 64, California’s recreational marijuana law.
On January 1, 2018, the legislation went into effect, making recreational marijuana sales legal throughout the state.
The reader, who asked that her name not be used, said she was required to send a copy of her photo ID in order to complete an online marijuana purchase from a retail facility.
She was concerned that the federal authorities may access her information, as well as that of all customers, if the dispensary was ever closed down.
Yes, is the short response to her query. Marijuana is still classified as an illicit narcotic under federal law, and recreational users are currently unprotected.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew an Obama administration memo recommending a hands-off approach to marijuana prosecution only days after California approved retail pot sales. The move was interpreted as clearing the way for a government crackdown on marijuana, however it is unclear whether this will occur.
We talked to marijuana policy experts about the potential of federal prosecutions and looked into customer privacy and data gathering procedures of the best online weed dispensary to get a more complete picture.
We discovered that the answers aren’t always as straightforward as the state’s marijuana laws.
What information about recreational marijuana clients can shops collect?
Customers must produce a valid ID to confirm they are 21 or older in order to purchase recreational marijuana at a dispensary in California. It is sufficient to have a driver’s license or a passport.
Under Proposition 64, dispensaries are only required to check this information for walk-in recreational users. According to Tamar Todd, who helped develop the ballot initiative and is the Drug Policy Alliance’s legal affairs director, the law does not require businesses to keep consumer data after a purchase. However, there is nothing in the law that stops corporations from requesting and storing it.
Customers’ information is kept by all of the half-dozen dispensaries we contacted for PolitiFact California. The majority claimed they scan driver’s licenses, which automatically inserts personal information into the store’s computer system in some circumstances. Customers at one dispensary must also fill out a contact form with their names and phone numbers in addition to the scan. If they don’t want to give their entire name, they enter in their initials and a date of birth, according to another.
‘Go to a different store.’
Many retailers collect this information for marketing purposes, according to Robert Mikos, a professor of state and federal marijuana legislation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
“As a customer, you might go into a store where you don’t have the option to decline; stores are always attempting to get information,” Mikos explained. “You could go go to another store where they don’t gather such information.”
Dispensaries track consumer purchases for a variety of reasons, including marketing. According to Lauren Mendelsohn, a Sebastopol-based attorney who specializes in cannabis permits and licensing, the necessity to comply with state rules that limit the amount of cannabis sold to an individual each day is also important. Recreational customers are allowed to purchase 1 ounce of cannabis every day, which is enough to fill a few dozen joints. They can also buy up to 8 grams of cannabis concentrates, which can be found in marijuana consumables like chocolates, brownies, and breakfast bars.
“They need to keep account of who bought what, when they were there, and how much they paid,” Mendelsohn said.
Orders for delivery
According to Todd of the Drug Policy Alliance, clinics are required by law to keep some personal information for delivery orders in order to prevent marijuana from being diverted to anyone under the age of 21. In such circumstances, the retailer keeps a copy of each delivery request on file.
Patients must present a doctor’s recommendation or a state-issued medical marijuana ID card while visiting dispensaries to obtain medical marijuana.
Amy Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the California Cannabis Industry Association in Sacramento, said she hasn’t heard of shops storing a lot of personal information on people who buy recreational or medical marijuana.
Medical patients, on the other hand, prefer to be “included into the system merely for convenience and comfort when they come back in to purchase new products,” rather than taking a letter from their doctor with them every time they visit, she said.
Videotaping is another method of gathering information at dispensaries.
According to Todd, dispensaries are obligated to videotape consumers on-site, including each transaction, under the state’s emergency licensing laws.
Todd, citing health privacy rules, stated, “I find that a little troubling in terms of privacy, especially for individuals who are medicinal marijuana clients.” “It seems pointless to me, and it has a chilling effect on customers by exposing them to undue legal risk.”
The surveillance obligation, she added, is part of the state’s six-month emergency guidelines, which were established in late 2017 and govern industry activities.
On January 1, 2018, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana sales. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.
How concerned should customers be about their personal information?
Experts warned us that the federal government is unlikely to pursue individual customers for enforcement.
“For consumers, the risks are rather mild,” Mikos, the Vanderbilt professor, said. “That’s partly because the federal government has never put much effort into really enforcing the marijuana prohibition against consumers. It is always centered on large vendors. It has also delegated consumer protection to state bodies. As a result, the federal government is unlikely to take legal action against customers.”
The Drug Policy Alliance’s Todd agreed.
“Individual clients will almost certainly not be targeted. Many other targets would take precedence “she stated
The chances of the federal authorities targeting medical marijuana users appear to be considerably slimmer because they are protected by law. According to Mikos, the US Department of Justice has been prohibited from using budgeted funds to pursue individuals or providers who comply with state medical marijuana legislation since 2012. The measure was introduced by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon).
There is no such safeguard in place for recreational marijuana users. According to Todd, various measures have been introduced in Congress to increase protections for recreational customers, ranging from legislation prohibiting the DOJ from prosecuting customers who follow state law to a broader plan to legalize marijuana across the country.
Are there any state laws that protect the privacy of customers?
Oregon approved a law in April 2017 barring marijuana dealers from collecting or sharing personal information about their customers. According to an article in the Oregonian, customers can still sign up for emails from stores to receive coupons or discounts. Fears that the Trump administration would crack down on the state’s cannabis business were raised by lawmakers in that state.
According to the Associated Press, similar regulations exist in Alaska and Colorado, as well as self-imposed industry norms in Washington state.
There were no formal measures in the California Legislature to address privacy concerns at dispensaries as of early February 2018. According to Jenkins, the cannabis industry lobbyist, at least one state legislator has looked into the issue.
Jenkins declined to name a state senator who is considering legislation to “further safeguard clients from dispensary operators that request information beyond” validating an ID card. She described it as a preliminary “fact-finding inquiry” to determine whether there is an issue, emphasizing that the lawmaker has not committed to introducing legislation.
Yes, but with some qualifications.
Our reader wondered if marijuana users could be charged with a crime by the federal authorities. Yes, but there are some conditions.
Marijuana is still prohibited in the United States. Furthermore, the Trump administration has taken efforts to facilitate a crackdown on the business.
We discovered that dispensaries in California collect personal information, possibly more than customers realize. While state law does not require this information to be collected, it does not prevent retailers from asking for it and keeping it.
Despite this, marijuana policy experts believe that federal authorities would be unlikely to target individual clients. Customers who use medical marijuana have some legal rights if they follow state medical marijuana legislation, they said. Consumers of recreational marijuana do not have the same protection.
It’s too soon to predict whether California or the federal government will enact laws to strengthen safeguards. Dispensaries could potentially play an essential role in protecting client data on their own.
According to Amy Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the cannabis industry, the industry would respond to customer concerns.
“If there are privacy concerns, or if there are behaviors and data collecting that should not be occurring,” Jenkins said, “I think we as an industry will do our best to better teach dispensary operators on what’s appropriate and what isn’t.”
What are your marijuana-related concerns?
We’d want to hear from you on what’s legal and what isn’t in California’s marijuana rules.