Member Blog: Cannabis Business Security – Going Above and Beyond
In 2018, Sacramento CBS reported crooks stole $80,000 worth of cash and cannabis products from TotalLeaf Inc. after circumventing the facility’s alarm system and video surveillance technology.
Christopher Cohen, owner of the Sacramento-based cannabis manufacturing and distribution company, told the news outlet his security plan passed muster with state and local authorities, but noted the company upgraded its security after being robbed. The edibles-to-oils manufacturer has added steel doors, additional security cameras, alarm systems, fences and bolted-down safes. The firm also hired a private security company to watch over the property 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Commercial cannabis businesses, like TotalLeaf, are prime targets for burglary, robbery and internal theft. This is not surprising in a cash-based industry with a flourishing black market. Commercial cannabis business operators must maintain stringent and customized security strategies that go beyond state and local minimums to fully protect their businesses from crime.
In states where cannabis is legal, the first step toward acquiring a commercial cannabis license is meeting state standards. However, a growing number of local communities are expanding on these bare minimums and applying a wide-ranging set of additional security requirements for commercial cannabis businesses. Emerging local regulations incorporate specific design elements, lighting standards, manpower requirements, and heightened camera and alarm standards.
Regulations vary by municipality. Regarding design elements, local entities typically require the use of door-redundant screening areas, internal/secure loading areas, and reinforced product storage rooms. A minimum exterior lighting standard of 1.5-foot candles of LED, white luminance, and prohibitions against up-lighting and light trespass are also common. Some localities even demand one or more armed, or unarmed, security guards on the premises, during business hours and sometimes around the clock.
Gaps remain though local regulations are more stringent, says Matt Carroll, President of Carroll Consulting and Director of Compliance for Seed to Sale Security . Carroll, who develops security plans for cannabis operations, finds, “There is little value in meeting state (and local) standards just to check a box for compliance. Operators seeking to enjoy peace of mind and asset protection will approach security planning from two different perspectives: technical compliance and actual security. Existing regulations do nothing substantive to deter burglary, robbery, or to protect the safety of those working within or visiting a commercial cannabis business.”
But what does going beyond security requirements actually look like? This article investigates how cannabis operations can better harden their security by voluntarily meeting additional requirements for security cameras, access control and alarms.
More Security Camera Coverage
State-level cannabis regulatory bodies typically demand a basic level of surveillance coverage for access points and limited access areas, which are spaces where operations process, store or transfer cannabis goods. Most local authorities expand this requirement to include security camera coverage on all sides of the building, adjacent thoroughfares, and more thoroughly throughout the interior.
States also set a minimum resolution for security cameras. For instance, California requires a minimum resolution of 1280×720 pixels (e.g. 1 megapixel). Herein lies the problem: Any minimum megapixel standard predisposes operators to meet the minimum standard and little else. But, doing so may not achieve the goal of “certain identification” as expressed in the regulations.
Security camera megapixel ratings mean virtually nothing. For certain identification to take place, companies must also factor in the distance of the targeted viewing area from the camera placement, and the camera angle, lens quality and compression rates.
For positive identification in idyllic lighting conditions, security cameras must meet a minimum standard of 60 pixels. For night mode, positive identification demands up to 90 pixels per foot. This is what matters: pixels per foot (PPF) at the target, not the camera resolution. IPVM, an independent research group, has developed a great video to drive these points home.
Regulatory agencies hoping to get footage of value from crimes in cannabis settings would be wise to adopt a PPF standard over an overly simplistic megapixel standard.
Better Access Control
With access control, state regulations typically require walls, doors and commercial-grade locks. They also expect operators to maintain a log of visitors and those accessing video surveillance systems. More stringent access control regulations are few and far between.
Though reasonably priced biometric and electronic key systems are readily available, hand-written logs meet most state and local regulations. However, manual logging is unreliable. Using a manual system, coupled with PPF-ignorant video standards, puts access control on the honor system.
Responsible operators fill the gaps regulations ignore. These business owners reinforce storefronts and roll-ups with K4 or better rated bollards to deter vehicular intrusion. They install solid-core doors at all exterior access points and at internal doors leading to limited access areas. They equip doors with pry-resistant latch covers and automatic closing devices. They reinforce shared walls to prevent tunneling and they fortify product/currency storage rooms.
They also use electronic access controllers that limit staff to areas of relevant roles and to the days and hours when employees work. They reduce opportunities for human complacency to override their access control strategies from initial design, to technology, to supporting and enforcing policies.
Improved Alarm Systems
Short of mandating that operators install an alarm system that is operational after hours, most states establish no standards for monitored intrusion alarms at commercial cannabis businesses. This is another area where applicants can fill in the gaps.
Some jurisdictions mandate a specific Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) standard for intrusion detection and robbery alarms.
Beyond meeting UL standards, it’s also important to extend the focus of an intrusion alarm system beyond exterior access points. Offenders can come in the form of stowaways concealing themselves inside until closing. They may be employees accessing areas they shouldn’t or third parties who find less expected ways to access the premises, such as tunneling through walls or ceilings and misappropriating ventilation shafts.
A properly designed alarm strategy protects against these situations by establishing various partitions, allowing for “home” and “away” modes, and setting aside areas for management-only access. Even while occupied by workers, certain areas of the premises, such as product or currency storage areas, should remain under alarm monitoring.
Finally, a thorough alarm system abides by UL Standard 681, incorporating contact points at every door; sufficient motion detectors to detect movement in any direction, in any area of any room; glass break sensors; ventilation protection; and panic alarms at vulnerable positions, such as the entrance, loading areas, product/currency storage areas and the management office.
What more can you do?
Responsible cannabis operations also seek to elevate the safety and security of the entire industry.
This includes lobbying at the state level for severe criminal penalties against those engaged in the black-market trade. Public acceptance of cannabis often leads prosecutions to fall flat as jurors shrug about black-market activities. Black-market operators also view the limited penalties as a cost of doing business. But, as long as the government handles black-market cannabis retailing with kid gloves, criminals will target legitimate operators for their stockpiles of Grade-A product.
It also includes lobbying at the local level for more stringent security standards. Offenders who reap the rewards time after time an area will continue to target that area. But if cannabis business owners’ partner with local authorities to tighten up safety and security standards, their businesses become an environment where the juice is not worth the squeeze for offenders, ultimately driving their crimes to regions with less formidable targets.
Finally, it includes teaming with proven security experts who work in the cannabis space; following their best practices, developed based on real-world experiences; and teaching others in the industry to do the same.
Patrick Chown , is the Founder and President of Seed To Sale Security , a national cannabis security company offering security consulting, security plans, and security system installation to customer’s in 30 states. With cannabis-specific technology and a proficiency with regulatory compliance state by state, Seed To Sale Security makes sure your cannabis business stays safe, secure, and compliant.
Member Blog: The Cannabis Industry Requires New Security Thinking
The legal medical and adult-use cannabis market has grown to an estimated size of 7.1 billion dollars . With this growth comes an array of new opportunities and challenges for cultivation centers and dispensaries. These entities are looking for solutions to ensure they meet regulatory requirements, secure their facilities and produce products of the highest quality.
Click to read the case study
Some of the security and operational concerns for cultivation centers may include:
- Compliance with state-mandated requirements for facility and security system design
- Tightly controlled access
- Secured storage vaults
- Complete security camera coverage, with the exception of bathrooms and locker rooms
- Ability for state officials to log in to the security system remotely
- Monitoring of the environment in cultivation rooms
Revolution Cannabis, a cultivation center located in central Illinois, addressed these challenges with a new access control system. The company not only met state regulatory requirements but also prevented any incidents from occurring.
To learn more about how Revolution Cannabis was able to solve their security and operational challenges, read the full case study .
Member Blog: Three Security Must-Haves for Marijuana Dispensaries
The proliferation of both legalized medical and recreational marijuana has, not surprisingly, led to a massive boom in dispensaries — and, with that boom, increased focus on these burgeoning businesses and their increasing security needs. “Inventory will increase, cash holdings will increase, and the number of people accessing legal cannabis for the first time will naturally evolve to a larger customer base,” writes Marijuana Retail Report . To many industry and security experts, this presents a perfect storm — high value products, cash on hand and less scrutiny over who’s coming through the door.
If you’re launching or scaling a marijuana business, it’s essential to unpack several basic security challenges and overarching needs. By safeguarding your business from day one, you’ll be better positioned to protect your inventory, your customers and your business, while maintaining a well-designed, welcoming environment for workers and buyers.
1. Security Guards
Many dispensaries want to avoid a visible security presence — which makes sense. Because of marijuana’s history and, still, the stigma that exists in many communities, seeing a security guard can make customers feel skittish or even avoid coming in entirely.
The solution? Have point-of-entry security that facilitates a positive customer experience. Many businesses, for example, opt for plain-clothes guards or guards with uniforms that mimic the rest of the in-store team. “Since they are the first point of contact,” explains MMR , “ensure that they are helping consumers feel welcome and invited, yet are able to maintain a zero-tolerance stance on any customer activities that could present a perceived threat to your dispensary, staff and other customers.”
2. Secure Transportation
Getting marijuana from growers to dispensaries and shops presents another layer of security concerns. Because the product is so in-demand and so valuable, it’s an appealing target for retail crime, from the minute it’s harvested. If you’re handling transportation yourself, be sure your fleet is equipped with the basics — bullet-resistant finishes, GPS tracking and streaming videos that feeds to your security “home base,” for starters.
For many businesses, though, managing this level of high-stakes transportation is too much to take on, especially in the beginning. For them, there are a variety of transportation-focused companies who specialize in cannabis and medical transport, and can ensure your product arrives safely and securely every time.
3. Internal and In-Store Theft Prevention
The majority of dispensary losses come from employee theft. While there are several steps businesses must take early on — thorough employee screening, background checks and a solid inventory management and POS system — it’s essential to maintain in-store security measures that discourage “ heavy-handedness ” and full-on theft.
During the onboarding process, supervisors and dispensary owners should be clear that employees cannot sell to themselves. Beyond that, ensure you have a clear-cut “friends and family” discount policy in place and that it’s communicated and adhered to. No discounting allowed? Make sure that’s made crystal clear, too.
Taking things a step further, be sure to integrate physical protections for your product. Senseon Secure Access recently topped IndicaOnline’s list of the top five security services for marijuana dispensaries , with a specific eye on the company’s smart cabinetry systems. With automatic relocking and customizable permissions for staff, it’s easy to safeguard cannabis while, at the same time, maintaining a close eye on who’s accessing what when — if there’s a problem with products, tracking down the culprit is easier than ever. And, with a keyless entry, there’s no risk keys will end up in the wrong hands ever.
As the cannabis landscape grows and expands, security needs will, too. But, for now, focus on these three must-haves to protect your dispensary today and tomorrow.
Evan Hicks is Marketing Coordinator for Senseon Secure Access, a product of Accuride International. As coordinator, he helps manage Senseon’s marketing initiatives covering communications, events, and research & development. With an unquenchable thirst for learning, Evan frequently finds himself deep in the rabbit hole conducting research for Senseon’s multiple markets.
A graduate of California Polytechnic University, Evan has nearly a decade of experience in security and public relations in both the public and private sector.
Member Blog: Customer Privacy – Keeping Personal Information Secure and Compliant
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.
Cannabis State Applications: Don’t Forget Your Security Plans
There are three things in business you should never do:
- Be your own doctor
- Be your own lawyer
- Write your own State Cannabis Application
Having been involved in the cannabis industry the last few years, I have seen many businesses and entrepreneurs who have a strong desire to get into this industry. Some want to own cultivation centers and grow marijuana, others want to run a dispensary and sell the marijuana, and then there is another more ambitious group who wants to do both. I think this is great and I encourage all to get involved in this growing and ever-changing industry.
But before you buy your cannabis equipment and hire a staff, you will first need for your state to give you a license. In order to get this license, you will need to apply to the state for review and approval. Your application can range from 300 to 2,000 pages and will cover a wide range of operational programs, including a well-defined security plan.
The primary purpose of a cannabis security plan is to provide a safe and secure environment for your employees, patients and visitors. Your security plan will cover facility security, security surveillance, product security, and policies & procedures.
Just like a doctor who specializes in a disease or a lawyer who only deals in certain types of the law, you want to make sure the person or company
who writes your application has written previous cannabis state applications. This is not the time to give a lawyer or accountant friend, ex-DEA agent, or a retired police chief the chance to learn how to write a cannabis application. Remember, you may only get one chance at a cannabis license and the state regulatory agencies are not very forgiving when it comes to incomplete or poorly written cannabis applications.
So make sure your cannabis application is the best it can be and look for a professional who specializes in this type of application writing.
I wish you the best of luck in this new and exciting industry.
Watch this YouTube video of Tony Gallo from Sapphire Protection speaking about security at CannaStock on September 26, 2014.
Member Blog: Cannabis Business Security – Going Above and Beyond In 2018, Sacramento CBS reported crooks stole $80,000 worth of cash and cannabis products from TotalLeaf Inc. after circumventing
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