In this March 12 photo at Full Bloom Cannabis' growing facility in Grand Isle, young marijuana plants are nourished with 24/7 purple-toned growlights. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

AUGUSTA, Maine — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is protesting a draft set of rules for the state’s adult-use marijuana program, saying a requirement for high-definition cameras outside stores violates a new facial surveillance ban.

It highlights the sweeping nature of the state’s surveillance law, which supporters called the strongest in the nation when it passed in 2021. The measure bars government entities from using facial surveillance systems or information derived from them or entering into agreements with third parties authorizing them to use those systems, with some exceptions.

The main target of the law were facial recognition systems driven by artificial intelligence that have been led by tech companies and used by police to identify suspects in crimes. One Massachusetts Institute of Technology study in 2018 identified racial and gender bias in systems that had low rates of error for light-skinned men but higher ones for dark-skinned women.

A draft set of rules for the state’s adult-use marijuana program makes no mention of those types of systems. It only would require businesses to install cameras that would allow for everyone entering and exiting to be identified. But that still amounts to a violation of the broad ban, the ACLU of Maine said in public comments filed with the state this week.

“There is no persuasive rationale for ubiquitous video monitoring of cannabis establishments,” the group said.

The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, the state regulator for both the adult-use and medical programs, has roughly four months to either change the rules based on feedback from the public or allow them to go into effect as is.

The rationale for this rule was not for facial recognition systems to proliferate, but for licensed marijuana stores to be able to identify a customer at the point of sale if their presence in the store is later questioned, said Matt Grondin, a spokesperson for the office.

“The requirement is not and has never been a facial recognition requirement,” he said.

But that does not make this rule legal, argued Michael Kebede, a lawyer for the ACLU of Maine. He called the “surveillance state” rule a clear violation of the ban that was coming as states and other countries are loosening regulations on marijuana.

“The state cannot condition a license based on having a face surveillance system,” he said. “That’s what the rule would do.”

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...