The doorbell rings and you peek through the window: It’s your friendly neighborhood marijuana deliverywoman.
But she’s not just carrying the eighth-ounce of sour diesel you ordered online — she’s also wearing a body camera, part of a government-mandated security system that films customers accepting cannabis deliveries in their own homes and allows law enforcement agencies to access the footage for any reason.
A pot consumer’s nightmare? No — it’s a proposal by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission for regulating forthcoming recreational pot deliveries. The body camera requirement is just one part of a restrictive plan that is drawing pushback from critics who say it would violate consumers’ privacy and make operating a delivery company financially infeasible.
“Cannabis consumers have been targeted and monitored for decades,” said Joseph Gilmore, president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council. “To require body cameras on legal cannabis deliveries is an invasion of privacy and perpetuates the false notion that marijuana attracts criminal activity.”
The commission this week wrapped up a public comment period on draft regulations that would allow independent delivery companies to bring pot from brick-and-mortar marijuana stores to residential properties across Massachusetts — though not in the dozens of municipalities that have banned retail pot sales.
If the agency gives final approval to the plan in September, deliveries could start within months, after eligible entrepreneurs — at first, only participants in the commission’s social equity and economic empowerment programs could apply — clear an application and background check process.
Operators, however, would immediately confront a long list of rules, including requirements that each delivery vehicle be staffed by two licensed workers and equipped with a GPS tracker, multiple cameras, and permanently installed lockboxes for cash and marijuana. They would also be barred from purchasing products cheaply in bulk from cultivators and wholesalers, forced instead to buy smaller quantities of marked-up marijuana products from retail stores as customers order them.
Consumers, meanwhile, would not be eligible to place delivery orders until they first visited a marijuana store and presented their IDs in person as part of a “preregistration” process.
Critics are concerned that the body-cameras and other rules will scare off both entrepreneurs and consumers.
“At some point, expensive and onerous regulations like body cameras will threaten the viability of these businesses,” said Matt Allen, field director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “And ultimately, if these businesses are too costly to operate, the illicit and gray markets will continue to thrive.”
Marijuana companies also object to the commission’s proposed restriction on deliveries to towns with retail pot bans, which some industry lawyers insist is illegal.
“You’re basically creating cannabis deserts,” said David O’Brien, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association. “This notion that cannabis somehow doesn’t happen in communities with a ban on sales — that’s a joke. That’s where the illicit market is the strongest.”
Proponents of the tough security rules say they are simply an extension of similar measures deployed in retail marijuana stores — tightly controlled facilities that are required to have numerous cameras and “limited access areas” where cash and cannabis are accessible only by certain employees.
They believe body cameras will help protect drivers from robberies and prevent diversion of marijuana to minors or the illicit market, and pointed out that companies would have to warn consumers in advance that the transaction will be filmed.
“Massachusetts has seen violence associated with marijuana [deliveries] on the illicit side, and the commission is obligated to acknowledge that risk and protect the people delivering it through preventative measures,” said Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael, a member of the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board. “The body cameras are just one way of doing that.”
Several other states, including California, Oregon, and Nevada, allow deliveries, though they differ widely in their regulations and the role afforded to municipalities.
According to the draft rules, delivery operators would have to retain body camera data for at least 90 days, and make the footage “accessible to the commission or law enforcement on request.”
Allen and others say that language is far too broad, and could open the door for police departments and agencies within the federal government to use the videos to identify marijuana consumers.
Along with the possibility of the data being hacked or leaked, they fear any sharing of the footage could result in immigrants being deported or losing their legal status, veterans losing their federal benefits, or ordinary workers losing their jobs, since employers under state law are still permitted to fire employees for using marijuana.
“In the veteran community specifically, privacy is always an issue,” said Stephen Mandile, an Iraq War veteran, marijuana activist, and Uxbridge selectman. “A lot of veterans have jobs as first responders, security, instructors, stuff like that — everybody is wary of being on camera.”
Carmichael countered that police are too busy to randomly review surveillance footage unless they’re investigating a possible crime, and added that most residents are filmed multiple times a day without incident just walking down the street.
But Allen and other civil liberties advocates say that’s exactly the problem, arguing the proposal to bring cameras to consumers’ doorsteps is just the latest in a series of government and corporate affronts to privacy.
Carmichael said he would favor tightening the language so that footage would only be available to officers investigating a specific incident.
The camera plan has received pushback from within the commission, with Commissioner Shaleen Title strongly objecting to the requirement at a meeting earlier this year. The agency declined to comment, but members heard a chorus of complaints about the proposal at a public listening session in Boston Wednesday.
Marijuana industry leaders expressed mixed feelings about the proposed body camera rule.
O’Brien said that he could understand the visceral revulsion of having a camera pointed at his face when he opens the door, and that he was worried businesses would bear the brunt of any backlash.
“Presumably, you’re having something delivered because you want the transaction to be private,” he said. “I can imagine people getting that lens in their face and saying, ‘Are you filming me? Right now? At my doorstep? How dare you?’ ”
But Jon Napoli, an executive at In Good Health, said his company — like a smattering of operators in other legal-marijuana states — already equips its medical marijuana delivery workers with body cameras, and has had no problems.
“People really don’t notice the cameras,” he said. “I think it’s just an added measure of security — a little bit more peace of mind for the delivery guys. This way, if something goes wrong, we have it on video, instead of having to take someone’s word for it.”