Pot in California

Recreational pot vendors don't need to keep your personal info. But they do anyway

Recreational weed is now legal in California. So what does that mean?

In January 2018, state and local authorities will begin issuing licenses for the sale of legal recreational marijuana. But what do you need to know before you rush to the dispensary? Information courtesy of Ballotpedia.com.
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In January 2018, state and local authorities will begin issuing licenses for the sale of legal recreational marijuana. But what do you need to know before you rush to the dispensary? Information courtesy of Ballotpedia.com.

California recreational marijuana dispensaries are collecting customers' personal information – including government identification documents as well as what products they buy – even though the record keeping is not part of Proposition 64, the state law voters approved in November 2016.

Collection of the data raises concerns for some because it remains unclear how the federal government intends to respond to marijuana legalization, since the herb remains a controlled substance in U.S. statutes.

In contrast, Colorado and Oregon, states that also have legalized recreational use, banned collection of personal information. And officials in Washington, another state with legal weed, said building customer databases is not practiced there.

In addition to concerns about privacy and identity theft, the data collection also has caught the attention of Second Amendment proponents, because marijuana use by firearm owners is prohibited under federal law.

A check of vendors closest to Fresno County (which has no recreational marijuana outlets) found none where a customer profile was not kept on dispensary computers. That includes an outlet in Woodlake in Tulare County as well as dispensaries in Stanislaus County, Salinas, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and the Bay Area.

When asked why customer profiles were created, several dispensary workers incorrectly stated the information was required under Proposition 64. Others cited it as a customer convenience. All said a customer who did not agree to the terms would be turned away. None of those queried would agree to provide a last name to a Fresno Bee reporter.

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Valley Pure, the first legal recreational marijuana store in the region, has opened in Woodlake in Tulare County. Valley Pure

In Woodlake, a man who identified himself as the manager of Valley Pure, the first recreational dispensary in Tulare County, cited state law for the data collection. He would not identify himself and said inquiries about the data collection constituted "harrassment."

Jason Finfrock, the reported owner of Valley Pure, said Thursday that he would have no comment on the issue.

At the Green Door in San Francisco, an employee said, "We will only ring you up if you come up on our profile."

At Canna Cruz in Santa Cruz, a man who gave his first name as Ian said the information was required by law and added, "if a person didn't want to do that, we would suggest they not shop at our dispensary."

Similar responses came from workers at Flavors, in the Stanislaus County town of Riverbank, at People's Remedy in Modesto and Alpine Alternatives in Sacramento.

Proposition 64 establishes one ounce of marijuana, or 8 grams of cannabis concentrates, as the legal limit for recreational pot possession for adults over the age of 21. Here are examples of actual amounts of products someone could carry now that

Said Alex Traverso, chief of communications for California's Bureau of Cannabis Control:

"The state doesn't require that retail locations collect the personal information of customers. In our regulations, it says nothing of the sort."

In comparison, under Colorado Amendment 64, requirements for a marijuana purchase requires nothing "other than information typically acquired ... in a ... transaction at a retail liquor store."

Oregon's state law, enacted in 2017, is more direct. It bans data collection and orders that any information collected by vendors be destroyed within 30 days.

Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesman for Washington's Liquor and Cannabis Board, said there is no requirement for data collection in his state.

"If you walk in, they may card you," as at a liquor store, he said.

California Marijuana Taxes.JPG
Voters are considering a tax on marijuana sales in unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County in Tuesday's primary election. Mathew Sumner AP

Fresno attorney Brenda Linder, who has represented medical marijuana dispensaries, said the recreational outlets "are probably taking more information than they need." She added that it may be that dispensaries are taking information needed for sales of medical marijuana.

"It's a holdover from that model," she said. "They are having a hard time shifting over (to recreational marijuana sales)."

Linder said it remains unclear how U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a foe of legal marijuana, will respond in the future to legalization of pot by states, and noted that firearms buyers who consume marijuana should be cautious.

"You either have to not possess (a gun) or make a horrible decision to lie on a firearms application," she said.

In 2011, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms notified gun dealers that marijuana users were prohibited from buying firearms.

In 2016, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling that a marijuana user in Nevada had no Second Amendment right to own a firearm.

In December, police in Honolulu gave gun owners who are registered as medical marijuana users 30 days to turn in their firearms, a move the chief later rescinded.

Brandon Combs, an attorney with the Firearms Policy Coalition, said firearms possession while being a marijuana user continues to have "very serious consequences." He scoffed at assertions by dispensaries that their data was private and would not be shared with anyone.

"If they are raided by federal authorities, and that (data) is seized, there could be real problem," for those in such a database, Combs said. "It raises massive concerns."

Jim Guy: 559-441-6339, @jimguy27.
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