In this Oct. 1, 2015 file photo, Oregrown employees Bianca Pintar, left, and Dusty Newman, right, help customers during the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Bend, Ore. Oregon is now taking steps to protect the privacy of marijuana customers. (Jarod Opperman, The Bulletin via Associated Press file)

Oregon Senate approves proposal to shield weed buyers’ info from feds

SALEM, Ore. — A proposal to shield the names, birthdates, driver’s license numbers or any other identifying information of potentially thousands of recreational pot customers cleared its first major hurdle at the Oregon Legislature this week amid worries over a federal marijuana crackdown.

Senate Bill 863 — a proposal from the 10-member bipartisan committee that crafts Oregon’s marijuana policies– cleared the Senate on Tuesday and heads to the House for consideration.

The bill’s bipartisan sponsors want to put a stop to what’s become a common practice within Oregon’s budding pot industry, where legal retailers often stockpile the names, birthdates, addresses, driver’s license numbers and other private information of each recreational customer that walks through their doors. Such activity is either prohibited or discouraged in Alaska, Colorado and Washington state.

Should the proposal become law, pot retailers would have 30 days to destroy their recreational customers’ data– derived from the driver’s licenses, passports or military IDs that are used to verify patrons are at least 21– and would be banned from such record-keeping moving forward. Medical marijuana cardholders’ data would be excluded from the provisions.

Pot businesses say the data is used mostly for marketing purposes, such as email lists for promoting products with special deals and birthday discounts, which the bill would still allow in some instances if the customer voluntarily shares their name and email.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, Republican minority leader and one of the bill’s sponsors, says it’s a major privacy concern for not only Oregon residents, but potentially federal employees, concealed-weapon permit holders and out-of-state visitors.

“I don’t have to tell you of the frequency of hacking incidents or inadvertent releases of data … the loss of this information could be damaging for many different reasons,” Ferrioli said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “We’ve heard a lot of conflicting information about the (White House) administration’s approach to cannabis.”

The mixed signals from Washington D.C. began late last month with White House spokesman Sean Spicer, who suggested a boost in enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws could be on the horizon, but only for recreational.

But last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cast doubt on the medical market by commenting that “medical marijuana has been hyped, perhaps too much.” Sessions also has said that his agency is reviewing an Obama-era memo giving states flexibility in passing marijuana laws.

Either way, any heightened enforcement of the federal marijuana prohibition would be complicated in Oregon, where most pot shops are licensed to serve both recreational and medical customers under one roof.

The proposal underway in Salem was amended last week to exclude medical pot customers, whose buying activities are closely monitored for tax purposes, product quality and consistency of the state’s tracking program, said Jonathan Lockwood, spokesman for the Senate GOP caucus.

“When you’re a medical cardholder, you opt-in to your records being kept because you have a qualifying condition that requires higher limits and potencies and certain products … So, the bill went as far as it reasonably could to protect privacy,” Lockwood said.