Insights & Analyses

Weed distributors could get high on biometric identification

July 26, 2017

It’s cool, we promise that pot dispensing machine isn’t a narc.

Now, to make sure it really knows you, it’ll just need to scan your finger.

Whether or not they will catch on with High Times aficionados, one company is pushing biometric vending machines in the booming legalized marijuana industry. By adding vascular biometric finger scanners, SecureIDNews explains, the machines can better verify that customers are authorized to purchase cannabis from an unmanned dispensary.

The machines are made by a publicly traded company called American Green, which equips its kiosks to distribute any age-, permit- or prescription-restricted items. That means they could potentially expand beyond pot and into sales of alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and even guns.

To gain access, customers must visit a kiosk with a government-issued ID to verify their identity. A real person remotely authenticates their identity and allows them to scan their finger into the machine and, with a QR code distributed through an official app, pre-purchased products can be obtained at a vending machine.

Though the machine itself verifies the user’s identity through a finger scanner, in a unique twist it doesn’t actually check the fingerprint. Instead, the system uses vascular biometrics to read the way the veins in a person’s finger are shaped and stacked, offering an uncommon — but still apparently secure — method of verification.

The system even does a “live check” to ensure the person actually has blood running through their veins.

American Green says its biometric verification system is utilized by the U.S. military and “many large corporations who require top-notch security for identification prior to entering a facility.”

The company expects to soon have their systems in “pretty visible locations” that will go beyond pot dispensaries to include stadiums and casinos.

However, questions of legality and security remain. Most notably, while individual states have taken it upon themselves to legalize marijuana for medicinal or even recreational uses, it remains illegal at a federal level in the U.S.

In fact, under President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled he plans to institute a renewed crackdown on cannabis. As soon as next week, the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety is expected to begin changing existing policies on marijuana enforcement in an effort to reduce what the administration views as related violent crimes.

Given the current federal climate toward marijuana, the prospect of using biometric identification for purchases may be a bit too far for privacy advocates, particularly those who engage in marijuana use given its current, questionable legality across the U.S.

With that in mind, and given that paranoia is a known side effect of marijuana use, it’s possible some buyers may spot a weed vending machine with a finger scanner, and ultimately decide to pass on that hit.

Whether American Green can overcome that hurdle may decide whether its vending machines generate buzz, or just go up in smoke.