Vince Gurule, right, takes care of customers at Bud Med Health Center in Denver in February. Colorado pot shops are balancing privacy, security and marketing in how they handle collecting information on their customers. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Pot & privacy: Customer info complex issue for rec shops

Josh Boucher guards his privacy, especially when he goes shopping at a place selling NYC Diesel and East Coast Alien.

The 34-year-old is fine with showing his driver’s license before entering the Bud Med recreational pot store in Edgewater — as he did one afternoon recently — but is relieved no record of it will be kept.

If a sales clerk tried to coax his cellphone number from him in exchange for joining a rewards program that would net him free joints or a T-shirt, he said he would respectfully decline.

“We have so many violations of privacy in our lives already,” he said. “We don’t have a Fourth Amendment anymore. So anytime you have a chance to exercise that right, it’s a good feeling.”

Colorado’s constitutional amendment that legalized recreational weed does not require stores to keep records on customers, as medical marijuana dispensaries must. But recreational stores aren’t prohibited from recording personal information, either.

Store owners say they’re taking a cautious approach, prioritizing customer privacy while weighing security concerns and a desire to know who their customers are and which strains of marijuana they like.

“You have to find a healthy balance,” said Brooke Gehring, co-owner of Bud Med and a chain of recreational and medical marijuana outlets. “How do we capture information that is pertinent to the success of our new retail business, versus the privacy of adults who now have this right and are able to shop at our stores?”

At Gehring’s stores, the answer for now is to go no further than inviting customers to punch their cellphone numbers or e-mails into tablet computers at the counter to receive promotional offers, she said.

Colorado marijuana guide: Bone up on the basics of what’s legit and what’s not with our FAQ

For all the efforts by Amendment 64 proponents to portray marijuana as deserving the same treatment as alcohol, few people look over their shoulder when walking into a liquor store.

The text of the amendment makes personal privacy paramount. State officials may not require consumers to provide a store with any personal information other than a government-issued ID to confirm their age.

Stores are not required to acquire and record personal information about consumers “other than information typically acquired in a financial transaction conducted at a retail liquor store.”

“It’s heading in a way of more traditional commerce, but there is real hesitancy on the part of consumers and businesses to get too involved in the collection of consumer data,” said Denver lawyer Brian Vicente, a co-author of Amendment 64. “It’s really the dawn of a new industry, figuring out how far you can push without consumers being wary.”

Recreational marijuana customers are captured on camera. Images caught on the mandatory video cameras in stores must be preserved for 40 days and can be inspected by state enforcement agents.

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Mark Slaugh, CEO of Colorado Springs-based iComply, which trains marijuana companies on rules and regulations, said he recommends against businesses making sales contingent on the collection of consumer information. Doing so would go against the spirit of the amendment and could expose a business to a civil liability, he said.

“We say you are welcome to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior, like shoulder tapping outside the business, or how to spot a fake ID, or writing down a license plate if you see something suspicious,” he said.

Tim Cullen, co-owner of Evergreen Apothecary and Colorado Harvest Co., said some recreational shoppers after showing their ID give a name like “John Smith” at check-in so not even their first names are spoken by staff. Customers are invited to provide cellphone numbers to receive monthly texts with coupons and news, he said.

The businesses also collect phone numbers from customers who use credit cards “because people occasionally dispute credit card charges, and we need to get a hold of them,” he said.

Shop reviews: Our critic The Ombudsman makes purchases across the metro area. How do the different shops compare?

At Medicine Man in northeast Denver, co-owner Andy Williams initially planned to take video snapshots of IDs from recreational customers and store them for 40 days. He said he was considering it as “a way to encourage people to behave” and to give Medicine Man evidence if it were accused of failing to properly check identification.

Williams said he believed destroying the records after 40 days would prevent them from being subject to subpoena.

Williams never followed through on the idea. He said the store’s armed private guards — many of them former Special Forces personnel — make him confident about security.

Some retail pot buyers — and they are probably in the minority — simply don’t care what the government or businesses know. Among them is 21-year-old Rodolfo Garcia, who explained his position while lounging on a couch at Bud Med waiting to make his purchase.

“If cannabis is legal, then why do you have to stress on what anybody thinks?” Garcia said. “Come on, bro. There is no reason to be stressing out over a little bit of weed.”

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