The Grassroots of Marijuana Security (Part Four)
The fourth in an ongoing series, this blog discusses the connectivity between security and the medical and recreational marijuana industry. In Part One, I explained a holistic security plan for the oversight of commercial cannabis operations. In Part Two, I described the security strategy required to support the construction, implementation, operation, and sustainability of a cannabis cultivation center or dispensary. In Part Three, I delved into securing the day-to-day business operations of a legalized marijuana enterprise. And for Part Four, I examine the emerging legal and regulatory trends in this industry, specifically OSHA compliance, buffer zone rules, unregulated dispensaries, and legalized cannabis clubs.
Safe, Secure, and Compliant
Federal and state regulators are taking a bigger interest in the cannabis industry as the market develops. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ensures companies are providing safe working conditions for their employees and customers by operating at both the federal and state level, depending on how the state chooses to enforce safety laws. A knowledgeable consultant, well-versed in OSHA guidelines, will benefit your business and safeguard your operations, especially if you include him or her in your strategic security initiatives. Plus, your consultant will partner with you to prepare your company for any random and unannounced site visits by OSHA inspectors that could result in fines or, as a worst-case scenario, closing down your business.
What Does It Mean to Be in The Zone?
Typically, cannabis businesses cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a Drug Free Zone, which include child care centers, educational institutions, libraries, outdoor recreation facilities, schools, and youth activity centers. It’s a big hurdle for applicants if the space for their business is near one of these locations. And this zoning restriction doesn’t just apply to new entrepreneurs getting started in this industry—it also applies to current business owners who will have to adapt or lose their business, due to revised ordinances. For example, the Detroit City Council just passed new restrictions to curb an increase in unregulated dispensaries. The dispensaries that don’t meet these new regulations, including operating under a holistic security plan, can be closed.
Organized Crime and Minors
Two of the most serious regulations your business must follow are 1) ensuring that the product is not distributed to minors and 2) guaranteeing that revenue from marijuana sales does not go to criminal enterprises. Since many of these facilities cost millions of dollars to develop, build, and operate, failure to adhere to and enforce these requirements is a death sentence for most operations. Without the assistance of a subject matter expert in the law enforcement and security fields, you put yourself at risk of engaging in these prohibited activities to some degree. The logical first step in mitigating this risk is to develop an integrated and coordinated strategy with current police practices designed to prevent these crimes.
An Interesting Dichotomy
Washington, D.C. is considering the consumption, but not the sale, of cannabis at private clubs. The sale of recreational marijuana is illegal in the city, but liberal city council members are fighting with conservative anti-cannabis lawmakers to change the law. If this ordinance passes, residents will be able to consume marijuana at select locations. In the ever-changing world of the cannabis industry, one thing remains constant: an increased vigilance in security involvement with these enterprises will ensure the safety of their staff, protect the people frequenting these clubs, and safeguard their license to operate the business.
The Grassroots of Marijuana Security (Part Three)
This blog is the third in a three part series, discussing the connectivity between security and the medical and recreational marijuana industry. In Part One I tackled a holistic security plan for the oversight of commercial cannabis operations. In Part Two, I explained the security strategy to support the construction, implementation, operation, and sustainability of a cannabis cultivation center or dispensary. For Part Three, I am delving into securing the day-to-day business operations of a legalized marijuana enterprise. Specifically, I examine the design and creation of a comprehensive security standard to mitigate risk to employees, products, money, operation, and brand that can and should be addressed directly by incorporating security strategies through an integrated approach in a number of areas.
You Can’t Make an Omelet without Breaking Eggs
After identifying the particular needs and challenges of a commercial cannabis business, the proposed security path is based on my professional experience as an expert in securing private and public properties. I recommend a strategic business model that addresses specific security goals and objectives and avoids disrupting business operations or negatively impacting the aesthetics of the venue. However, there will be some growing (another bad pun!) pains as I craft a strategy and vision built to last. The potential domino effect from this model is a unique security environment that may take some getting used to. The best example is a searching policy to mitigate diversion of product or theft of funds. Employees working in this industry will need to be prepared to have their packages, workspace, vehicles, lockers, and attire inspected when entering and exiting the facility. If employees are uncomfortable with these processes and procedures, then they will probably need to find another line of work.
If You Build It They Will Come
The paramount goal of a successful business model in the cannabis industry is to protect people, product, property, brand, and assets. The business will thrive when people see that protection is an important part of the company’s mission. Employees are more likely to see security as a company priority if management visibly supports security efforts and initiatives. Some of the best ways to demonstrate that support are to include security as one of management’s core values and to promulgate official company policies regarding security. Customers are more likely to frequent your place of business knowing that a great deal of thought and effort has gone into creating a safe and secure environment. Access control standards and practices and the ability to screen and filter all personnel, services, deliveries, and equipment seeking access to the dispensary and its environs are crucial. The design also includes training curriculums, security awareness and education materials, emergency preparedness, fire prevention, and employee assistance programs, among many areas. Additional documents and policies will further protect your investment by focusing on strategies such as social media, open-source intelligence and analysis, technical surveillance, threat assessment, and incident response.
Security Technology Is Like Taking a Drink from a Fire Hydrant
Security technologies evolve at such a breakneck pace that as soon as your systems are installed they seem outdated. The only way to stay ahead of this curve is through the implementation, use, and effectiveness of the latest security systems and technologies, such as digital closed-circuit video surveillance equipment, exterior and perimeter security systems and monitoring, electronic access control systems, automated alerts, and information-sharing software. A well-qualified and experienced systems integrator can be worth their weight in gold because they can bring to your operation best-in-class performance and capabilities regardless of the product company. This independence will keep you away from vendors who push their own equipment without properly evaluating its effectiveness for your situation.
Many Receive Advice, but Few Profit from It
A trusted advisor can provide insight and counsel based on an institutional knowledge of the security industry often attained by sharing information and acting as a liaison with the federal, state, and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies. This model focuses on service to clients by developing strategic security relationships. Acting as a reliable and dependable confidant while offering an objective and independent voice, I not only keep you apprised of emerging threats but also informed of industry trends in countering these risks. In this fast-paced and ever-changing environment, the Lake Forest Group’s market leadership is maintained by a steadfast emphasis on research, analysis, and continuous interaction with subject matter experts who are leaders in their field.
The Grassroots of Marijuana Security (Part Two)
This blog is the second in a three part series focusing on the connection between security and the medical and recreational cannabis industry. In Part One I talked about what was required in a security plan for the oversight of the dispensing/cultivating operations. In summary, I recommended that the plan address technology (cyber security, digital video cameras, automated access control, biometric readers, and intrusion detection alarm systems); processes (security policies, incident response, visitor management, prohibited items, and training); personnel (on-site security and transportation security); and liaison with critical third parties (state officials) and first responders (police and fire). Now, I’ll discuss a security strategy to implement during the construction (if applicable), build out, preparation, and operations planning of your business. In Part Three, I will explain the necessary ongoing security posture for sustainability.
Congratulations You Have Your License!
So you’ve cleared the first hurdle—you were issued a license by the state to run a commercial cannabis business. The good news is you have your license, and the bad news is you have your license. I’ll explain. Just because the state has authorized you to operate in this industry does not guarantee that you will succeed. In Illinois, you’ll be in a four-year pilot period for fledgling cannabis businesses. If at any point during this timeframe you experience a security- or safety-related incident or non-compliance with the Illinois Department of Agriculture or Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, your license could go up in smoke (another terrible pun, but somehow appropriate). So the key to your success after getting your license is keeping your license.
Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
I have found that to be a successful security consultant I must understand the importance of collaboration. In this specific industry I have worked with professionals who offer very diverse backgrounds and skill sets. I have sat alongside venture capitalists, builders, architects, designers, owners, investors, engineers, chemists, doctors, police, fire, and emergency medical personnel, and cyber experts, to name a few. These interactions have taught me to know my limitations and stick to my specific area of expertise. Deferring to another professional, especially when you find yourself outside of your domain, is a sign of strength not weakness—plus it’s just smart business.
Separating the Walk from the Talk
Another dynamic that comes along with the opening of a marijuana enterprise is the inundation of vendors and companies that want to sell you everything from electronic tracking devices to bulletproof glass to biometric readers. A qualified security professional can run interference and be the filter for vetting all of the necessary services. Backed by my expertise and counsel, I research, identify, and validate candidates seeking to do business with my cannabis clients, offering products and services such as security systems integrators, contract security services, safe and vault specialists, transportation vehicles, and point-of-sale software. Through due diligence, interviewing, reference checking, and proposal request and review, I am able to save (my client) thousands of dollars by ultimately finding the most suitable provider at a cost-efficient price—to deliver the best bang for the buck.
The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
This focused security strategy has been created to support the design, construction, implementation, operation, and sustainability of a cannabis cultivation center or dispensary. Because the commercial cannabis industry is fast becoming a highly competitive market, the success of most businesses in this sector is based on several critical categories, with a safe and secure environment to prevent theft, diversion, tampering, and crime at the top of the list. As the outsourced security expert, I achieve these objectives through prevention-oriented planning; continuous coordination with organizational leadership; liaison with state and local government; application of security best practices; and installation of the latest technology to deter, secure, monitor, and mitigate risk in all aspects of the business. This methodology has been developed through many years of experience in the security field and uniquely tailored to address the specific needs of this industry.
The Grassroots of Marijuana Security (Part One)
To say the medical and recreational cannabis industry is precipitously growing (pun definitely intended) could be the understatement of the century. And before jumping into this emerging multi-million dollar business (over $700 million in sales in Colorado alone last year), you need to know some important facts. First, the entire endeavor starts and potentially ends with an exhaustive application package to the state where your facility (dispensary or cultivation) will be located. This is an expensive piece to the puzzle and could cost millions. I compare the evaluation and scoring of the application package to legalized gambling. It’s an extremely competitive process, you are not guaranteed to be issued a license, and unfortunately more losers than winners emerge.
I Love When a Plan Comes Together
Every successful business venture begins with a plan and this industry is no exception. Your security plan should include procedures for the oversight of the dispensing and/or cultivating operations that ensure accurate record keeping, patient confidentiality, and a ubiquitous security posture. The plan should address technology (digital video cameras, automated access control, biometric readers, and intrusion detection alarm systems); processes (security policies, incident response, visitor management, prohibited items, and training); personnel (on-site security and transportation security); and liaison with critical third parties (state officials) and first responders (police and fire). Well, that’s the 30,000-foot view. Since the plans I have helped create are about 100 pages in length, I obviously can’t fit everything in a blog—unless you want to read “War and Peace”—but I’ll try to include the most important points.
Location, Location, Location!
As you know location trumps all and in this industry, a number of zoning restrictions will determine the location of your facility. You also need to demonstrate why the location is suitable for public and patient access, parking, handicap compliance, safe cultivation and dispensing, product handling, and storage. You’ll need to articulate how the business will support the immediate community and how your security will negate any detrimental impact. Additionally, security schematics will indicate fire and life safety systems, CCTV, card readers, burglar alarms, panic buttons, fencing, and gates, and diagrams will depict the property, boundary lines, exterior landscape, and interior layout, as well as storage and delivery areas.
How to Separate Yourself From the Competition
Let’s start with exhibiting industry (and state) compliant labor and employment practices. You will need a safe, secure, and healthy working environment that will include background screening, emergency preparedness, workplace violence mitigation, code of conduct, and an employee assistance program. Other ways you can differentiate yourself are to show support to the local community, benefits to the socio-economic status of the residents, and coordination with the law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical personnel. Remember, you’re creating a strategy to protect a business that is (presently) in violation of federal law. It’s a cash only business that requires safes, vaults, armed guards, and armored vehicles to transport product and money.
It’s a Town Full of Losers and I’m Pulling Out of Here to Win
Sorry, I needed to include at least one Bruce Springsteen reference. Today’s security climate offers an opportune time for a holistic safety and security approach related to the daily operations and activities of this emerging industry. The design and creation of a comprehensive security plan to mitigate risk to employees, customers, products, operations, and brand can and should be addressed directly by implementing security strategies through an integrated approach in a number of areas I have addressed. In Illinois the security plan accounted for 20% of the overall score for the application package. When applications were evaluated equally, whether or not the license was granted was ultimately determined by the strength of the security plan. Remember that your security methodology along with the competence of your security practitioner may be the tipping points to your success or failure.