News & Opinion | August 2, 2019 2:53 pm

Cannabis Stores Already Using Facial Recognition

A.I. is becoming the new security norm across the supply chain.

ancient viruses infected weed plants
Ancient viruses infected cannabis plants. (Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

The cannabis industry is experimenting with new technologies such as facial recognition software and advanced video analytics throughout grow rooms, processing facilities and retail dispensaries, according to an article by Mason Marks, MD, JD published in Vice

Although some stores claim that customers’ information is cleared from the database within 48 hours, individuals flagged as suspicious or misbehaving can be stored in the system indefinitely. These customers can trigger emails and alerts sent to dispensary management if they enter a store. Ultimately, however, “store owners set the store security policy and procedures,” says Don Deason, VP of Sales for facial recognition developer Blue Line Technology. “The security response varies based upon store policy.”

While medicinal or recreational marijuana is legal in 33 states, marijuana is still illegal at the national level, leaving banks hesitant to associate with the industry. As a result, most dispensaries are cash-only, making them attractive targets for robbers. Facial recognition software companies have identified this as an opportunity to sell their product. In fact, there were 34 reported dispensary robberies in the first half of 2019 in Denver alone.

Advanced security in the cannabis industry using facial recognition is already in use: when customers approach the front door of a dispensary secured by Blue Line Technology, there are cues prompting them to look up at a camera. Other companies provide in-store cameras that run algorithms to look for hidden weapons while comparing customers’ photos to millions of people in a law enforcement database. The software can even reportedly recognize A-list celebrities.

However, the implementation of this new technology does not come without controversy: research shows that, without diverse datasets, A.I. systems are often inaccurate and may discriminate against women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. With these risks in mind, San Francisco, Oakland, and Somerville, Massachusetts have all banned commercial use of this technology.

“Despite what developers may say, facial recognition technology has the potential to reinforce the racist and classist policies of prohibition,” said Kamani Jefferson, co-founder of North Star Liberty Group, an organization that advocates for cannabis legalization while promoting racial and economic equality. “It’s a classic case of a slippery slope, and until there’s a guarantee that not one innocent person will be thrown in jail due to the faults of this technology, I wouldn’t recommend cannabis facilities waste their money.”

Don Deason states, however, that Blue Line’s facial recognition system “recognizes everyone equally” and that the software is not tracking race, age or purchases. According to Deason, Blue Line only sorts faces into three categories: “known, unknown, or threat”.

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