Buying pot from a dispensary gives some people cause for concern. As they walk underneath cameras and hand over their ID, they’re certain Big Brother is watching, Orwell’s 1984 morphing into 1984:20. So, is that what’s happening? Is the government tracking marijuana purchases? The short answer: no.

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The ID Factor

Typically, when you walk into a dispensary you’re asked to provide an ID by an employee the same way a bouncer at a bar asks for a driver’s license before he unclasps the red velvet rope. Some dispensaries have ID scanners – they scan your ID into a machine and your imagination runs wild. You picture your name going on a list, federal employees checking it like Santa in an attempt to find out who’s been naughty and high.

ID scanners only serve to do one thing: verify your age

An ID scanner works by reading the electronic data stored in the strip on the back of your driver’s license (and some other IDs). It clearly displays the customer’s age, allowing the person scanning to know if you’re 21 like you say or really 18 (or 21 like you say and really 32). It weeds out fake IDs, something useful not only in the cannabis industry but inside bars, liquor stores, casinos, and police stations.

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Not every pot shop will scan your ID – some states don’t require it, but the cities within those states guard And many business owners choose to as an extra precaution for anyone trying to catch them doing something wrong. They’re not being paranoid either.

Per Marijuana Venture, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board cracked down on underage sales by submitting all pot shops to a compliance check. They sent in 18 to 21-year-old men and women who claimed to have forgotten their ID or they presented an ID with their actual age (an age under 21). Then they busted any dispensary willing to dispense cannabis to the too young.

Private, but….

Though your personal information isn’t entered into a federal database, not every visit to every pot shop is saturated in privacy. In Colorado, for example, the state does not require consumers to disclose any information other than their state ID in order to verify age. 

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Amendment 64, the law that legalized weed for recreational use, speaks directly to this: "The department shall not require a consumer to provide a retail marijuana store with personal information other than government-issued identification to determine the consumer’s age, and a retail marijuana store shall not be required to acquire and record personal information about consumers other than information typically acquired in a financial transaction conducted at a retail liquor store."

Credit card reader

But, this doesn’t stop some stores from collecting more than they should. Some stores have policies where they collect your contact information. Their candidness varies as well: some are open about the information they amass; others cloak it in a bit of secrecy. Some stores also allow optional disclosure: you can enter your information as part of a rewards program.

Though buying weed with a credit card isn’t the norm, the rebellious dispensaries allow it. A 2015 investigation by Fox 31 in Denver found that 47 percent of licensed pot shops accepted MasterCard or Visa payments. They’re able to do this by skirting the system:

They conduct credit card transactions under holding companies that banks won’t balk at

If you buy a medicinal patch from a dispensary in Aspen, it might appear on your credit card as “alternative health” or even “gardening supplies.”

The dispensaries that allow you to pay with credit or debit cards generally collect much more personal information than those operating on a strict cash basis.

Smile, You’re on Camera

Of course, cameras are another factor in privacy and pot shops have them – lots of them. They’re not as plentiful as a casino, but they’re there. In Colorado, the law requires recreational marijuana stores to record people at the registers and those entering and exiting the building.

The law mandates that the footage must be kept for 40 days and that state officials may inspect it if they so please

Security footage on ipad

Some people view the cameras as an invasion of their privacy, but, in this day and age, there are cameras nearly everywhere. You’re on camera dozens and dozens of times a day without realizing and this footage largely goes unwatched; it’s filmed on a “just in case” basis.

Your Smoking Limit

In Oregon, state law allows adults to purchase up to seven grams a day. As a result, many people assume their purchases are being tracked in order to enforce these limits. Yet, there’s not enough manpower for that. Maybe not enough desire either.

Lots of marijuana in a jar

If you buy seven grams from one pot shop and return a few hours later to buy more, odds are you’ll be turned away. The dispensary may remember you or they may enter you into their own system to make sure they don’t sell anything illegal; they’re required to have written policies that make certain they don’t sell more to one individual than what’s allowed per day. But there’s nothing stopping you from going to another shop to buy seven more grams (and then another shop after that, and another shop after that). It’s a similar concept as restaurants that have a three-margarita maximum: they won’t sell you a fourth, but there’s little they can do if you decide to go down the street and pony up to that bar.

Buying marijuana isn’t as private as you may want it to be - neither is buying anything, wine or potatoes or condoms. But most of the information collected serves the purpose of either age verification or a marketing ploy: they want things like your email address not so they can send it to the government, but so they can reach out to you in an attempt to get more business. Federal agents won’t come knocking on your door, but your inbox will probably see more action than usual.