November 27, 2017

Member Blog: Customer Privacy – Keeping Personal Information Secure and Compliant

By Gary Cohen, Cova

Despite the national trend toward legalization and a growing consensus of acceptance among Americans, privacy is still a chief concern among many legal cannabis consumers. And across the industry, no one bears the burden of these concerns more than cannabis retailers.

As a cannabis retailer, you’re pulled in several directions. First and foremost, you’re beholden to state reporting requirements; on the medical side, this means validating recommendation letters and patient identification and storing this information securely.

On the adult-use side, you’re torn between the need to collect certain customer information for marketing and sales purposes and the overwhelming fear and distrust from customers concerning their personal privacy.

It’s a delicate balancing act—and as requirements continue to evolve, retailers need a system in place that’s both functional and flexible.

Determining Your Dispensary’s Needs

As a cannabis retail owner, your number one priority is compliance. And when it comes to patient and customer privacy, you need to determine exactly what your state’s requirements are per your particular operation.

If you’re a medical dispensary, your data security needs are going to be much different from that of an adult-use retailer, and vice-versa. If you run a joint medical and adult-use operation, you’re going to have to find a solution that caters to both.

Legal states have widely disparate laws concerning patient/customer privacy and data collection. For example, Oregon passed legislation earlier this year making it illegal for recreational retailers to keep customer information—such as names, addresses and birthdates—on file for longer than 48 hours.

On the other hand, medical dispensaries need some sort of system for identifying patients and their doctor-certified cannabis recommendations, while both adult-use and medical operations need to be able to track sales to individuals to ensure transaction limits aren’t exceeded.

Finding a Solution That’s Right for You—and Your Customers

Even though state laws mandate cannabis sales tracking and reporting, state agencies are not providing dispensary owners the tools needed to perform these functions in the most efficient manner.

Some statewide reporting solutions offer point-of-sale software that retailers can choose to use. But, as we’ve seen with the ongoing kerfuffle that some states are experiencing with their chosen systems, these technologies are not always the most reliable.

In these instances of statewide system failures and security breaches, what becomes of your customers’ personal information?

Cannabis retailers need a solution that can be tailored to their particular operation—be it medical, adult-use or both—and that is flexible enough to keep up with constantly-changing privacy and information collecting requirements.

Additionally, dispensary owners need to know that in the event the state’s system crashes or is breached, they can record sales using excel spreadsheets or continue ringing sales if their retail software permits all while maintaining their customers’ privacy.

Gary Cohen leads Cova’s charge into the legal cannabis space by guiding the vision, strategic development, ‘go to market’ plans and culture. A Denver native, he recently moved back to establish Cova’s HQ there.  While he joined Cova only a year ago, he was a successful business partner to Cova’s parent company since 2011.
Before joining Cova, Gary was a principal in over a dozen tech start-ups in the mobile communications industry ranging from small VC funded companies to Fortune 100 firms, including Onavo, which was later acquired by Facebook. In those companies he lead Sales, Marketing, Business Analytics and Market Expansions. He has also held a multitude of leadership roles with Verizon and AT&T for the first 15 years of the wireless industry.
Gary holds a Degree in Finance with a Masters in Marketing from the University of Colorado.

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