How the Government Is Turning Legal Marijuana into a Massive Surveillance State

dcmarijuanaBy Jake Anderson

Unfairly or not, most people think of marijuana as an illegal drug that thrives on the black market. They don’t view it as a highly regulated commodity packaged in one of the most high-tech surveillance systems on the market. But that’s exactly what it is — at least, in four states where it is legal, primarily in Colorado.

There, each recreational and medicinal strain of marijuana bears a barcode and a Radio Frequency ID (RFID). The facilities that house and sell the herb brandish state-of-the-art 24/7 security that tracks the movements of every employee. This “cannabis surveillance state” is in place ostensibly to ensure that states can control the drug from being on the black market; surveillance data allows regulators to know there is a “closed loop” of marijuana and that it is not crossing state lines.

For David Dinenberg, CEO of Kind Financial, the operative term is ‘seed-to-sale tracking,’ which ensures every second of a plant’s life is accounted for as a commodity, from its first seedlings to the hands of the person who purchases it at the dispensary.

This was made possible in 2011 when Colorado passed the first state law mandating marijuana surveillance. Subsequently, this birthed the Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting and Compliance (METRC), a government-referenced system owned by software company Franwell, which also operates in Alaska, Maryland, and Oregon.

What is left unsaid — and is probably unanswerable — is how far the surveillance extends. Are state agents literally watching patients and customers as they leave the dispensaries and go about their days?

Regardless, though this surveillance architecture is mandatory from the state’s perspective, others view it differently.

In an interview with the Anti-Media, Expect Resistance owner and activist, Sara Killbride-Johnson, expressed skepticism with regard to the use of mass surveillance with the implementation of cannabis sales:

Surveillance measures are always implemented because of people’s fear. You give up a freedom you feel you don’t need in exchange for protection, which you do. Even when it doesn’t help us personally, it’s true. Like convenience stores.

She continued:

The idea for surveillance here is two sided: 1) the general public is scared of the ‘violent underbelly, black market ‘drug dealers’ are scary and, as far as most of us know from TV and movies, violent and a parasite on society. Nobody wants that. So the general public is trading the surveillance of others (most people are not in the industry and think they won’t probably be buying marijuana soon so this will never include them), in exchange for protection from feeding this scary black market. It’s the kind of bullshit trade people live to make, like Patriot Act stuff; they don’t really care because they are ‘certain’ one of their freedoms is being curtailed [for the purpose of] keeping the bad guys away.

2) the people in the industry itself are scared of public perception but believe in industry enough and are willing to sacrifice not only personal privacy but also submit to all but debilitating minutia in order to not lose what they see is a precarious and hard fought victory. It’s kind of sick; there must be a manipulation tactic named after this hoop jumping, but it is so present in our lives that it kind of gets accepted. We want to participate in society (as we should be allowed to), and we are willing to allow our lives to be dictated by ever-increasing choreography in order to do so. The  ‘black market’ is mostly comprised of outcasts, and yes, there is violence, but that’s not the majority, and there are lots of critiques that the biggest reason there is violence in the black market is specifically BECAUSE it’s criminalized, which forces sellers to evade imprisonment.

Zeroing in on this particularly atrocious aspect of the Drug War, Sara said:

Imprisonment is so terrible not only because of the society in there but because being caged is so utterly depressing and terrible that humans will act in harsh ways to avoid it. So these things are a loop that create themselves and consume themselves at the same time . The idea that it’s going to be this way for a long time is such a ‘dog that’s been shocked so many times that it doesn’t even bother escaping from an open door’ mentality. It’s pretty sad, and it’s bullshit. At literally ANY time there could be a public awareness campaign that could change the perception of weed, and it would be almost instantaneous if it was done sincerely and came from the government that currently demonizes it. This is kind of cowering to your captors. It is what it is, but the weed industry itself could put money into education and change public perception; but now they are trapped financially in these expensive, time-consuming, constantly-changing legal pedants that they are too busy staying afloat to do proactive stuff at that scale. Great control tactic, but still arbitrary at its core.

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Will the “cannabis surveillance state” implode under federal and state regulations in Colorado, Alaska, Maryland, Oregon, and, soon, California? This will be a grand experiment in gray or parallel markets, but until humans aren’t wasting away in prison cells because of medicinal trade, the issue strikes a sour note.

This article (How the Government Is Turning Legal Marijuana into a Massive Surveillance State) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email

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17 Comments on "How the Government Is Turning Legal Marijuana into a Massive Surveillance State"

  1. No mention in this article about legal cannabis in Washington state?? I’ll take that as a plus. And while it’s not perfect it’s better than doing nothing. As far as cannabis being involved in some kind of super security state surveillance faux-conspiracy that’s just state sponsored fake news from a fake media that’s spreading these…half-truths all for the establishment that’s currently being replaced by Donald Trump. And they don’t approve – still, so that’s why all this garbage fake news involving real and legal cannabis. Now excuse me while I exercise my pro-cannabis rights and partake in some of the finest Diesel hybrid cannabis I’ve yet had the pleasure of using. Peace…

    • truth makes you free | December 10, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Reply

      The micromanagement of medical marijuana is a reality. Patients are logged into government databases. The ATF also insists that medical marijuana and recreational marijuana patients lose their RKBA. You are either in deep denial or an enemy of freedom.

      • Deep denial he is exercising his perceived freedom.

      • These are obvious tactics to sink the industry. We can only take this one step at a time. Those who have an interest in keeping weed illegal have bought and paid for a LOT of power in Washington and they are not going away quietly.

        What has to happen is the industry has to get organized, and they know this, and fight these kind of tactics legally. I believe it will happen.

        Nobody on either side can deny the utter failure of criminalizing weed, the forces it emboldens, the cost to society, the people it hurts, etc. The enemies of weed could care less about these facts. It’s all about the allmighty dollar.

        • truth makes you free | December 11, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Reply

          There is another group that damages the industry, those who have turned medical and recreational marijuana into one more crony capitalism industry. Using a variety of typical subterfuges, “Mom and Pop” have been driven out of the cannabis industry.

    • They didn’t mention Nevada either. Both MMJ and Recreational now. /;-D

  2. I am shocked. You mean a movement ultimately financed and headed up by George Soros is being used to advance the Surveillance State? Who would have though that?

  3. WatchmanofEzekiel33 | December 11, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Reply

    It says “Everything in moderation”. The over abuse of anything is still abuse. Let each decide in their own minds. For me and my house we will not touch it.

    • And no one cares, one way or the other.

      • WatchmanofEzekiel33 | December 11, 2016 at 8:52 pm | Reply

        You misinterpreted the word “touch”. The version I used means “To Partake of”. There are many definitions that are not used today unlike long ago due to the Dumbing Down of our society. .

    • YourTV Unplugged | December 18, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Reply

      So you have access to the worlds safest medicine, and you won’t ‘partake’ in it? You don’t partake in medicine, you consume it to make and keep you well, for your wellbeing! Seriously if you get sick or something you should try it, it can’t hurt (no really unlike pharmaceuticals it doesn’t and hasn’t ever harmed anyone)

  4. Hands off our weed! The state has forgotten it didn’t create cannabis – God did!

  5. There are plenty of us. The question is not how many are we; the question is “how many will answer the call?”

  6. WatchmanofEzekiel33 | December 11, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Reply

    Ezekiel Ch 2 and Ch 33. We can only tell them then our job is done.

  7. Yea, they thought no one could escape Alcatraz,too, Frank Morris proved them wrong.
    These marijuanas are a smart,pesky bunch as well. They`l figure a way out.

  8. YourTV Unplugged | December 18, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Reply

    Right Silverado! I like you got a bad vibe from this article… I’m looking at you Jake Anderson, are you the jake from statefarm? You probably are and this has something to do with insurance rates! lol… No but seriously, this seemed like it was being like “yea be scared of the big bad cannabis surveillance program and guess what guys looks like we have to go back to it being illegal. The blackmarket wasn’t so bad, heck its better than all this cannabis surveiellance where there’s someone watching you 24/7 as you get your medicine. So really its best we just go back to the blackmarket and forget about this whole legalization thing…” LOLOL That person isn’t watching or giving a crap about you buying your medicine, THEY’RE MAKING USE OF THE MEDICINE THEMSELVES LOL And not giving a hoot about watching a screen marking down every person that comes in! lol… It’s like this article was written in behest of a mexican cartel that’s pissed off that their mexican brick weed garbage product is no longer profitable since legalization that market is pretty much dead. And GOOD RIDDANCE, I always hated that inferior brick weed that sometimes you’d have to get if it was the only thing available! So yea legalization in the states we have is a step in the right direction even if they have a bit of monitoring on the medicine until its sold, eventually once totally freed that won’t even be there either. But being denied access to your medicine is far worse than them recognizing your right to use it and just wanting to keep an eye on it until you get it in your hands, then you’re responsible for it after that! Unlike you though I’m not in a state where they’ve legalized it yet, but it’s coming. We need a nationwide legalization to free the best plant in the world once and for all! 😀

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