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.