The burgeoning cannabis industry presents a wealth of opportunities to security providers, but companies need to be aware of the risks.
Photo credit: (Photo courtesy freeimages.com/growweedea)
While the use of medical marijuana has been approved in 23 states as of June of this year, the recent legalization of recreational pot in Colorado and Washington has been a proverbial game-changer for the cannabis industry. Of course, opening a dispensary, be it for medicinal purposes or otherwise, isn’t as simple as opening a local liquor store. Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the U.S. government, which makes growing it and selling it illegal under federal law. As such, a majority of banks remain reluctant to accept money generated from the sale of pot thereby essentially making the industry an all-cash business.
This creates a two-fold problem; not only do the growers and sellers of marijuana in states where its use is legal have to protect their product, but they also have to safeguard their profits from would-be robbers. Fortunately, for some of these cannabis business owners, there have been a handful of security companies willing to step in and help them mitigate their risks. One of these companies is DirectView Security, a wholly-owned subsidiary of DirectView Holdings that designs and installs security systems as well as manufacturers its own line of surveillance cameras and recorders.
“We saw this vertical market as a great vertical to get into because they need security,” said DirectView Chairman and CEO Roger Ralston. “The compliance (element) is huge for this market and we have the expertise to deliver what they need.”
According to Ralston, DirectView provides a comprehensive security solution to its customers in the cannabis industry. The company, which also counts some of the world’s largest corporations including AT&T, Coca-Cola, Marriott Corporation, TD Securities, Waste Management, Trump, and Sprint among its’ clients, opened an office in Colorado earlier this year with the purpose of supporting the burgeoning cannabis industry.
“We provide everything from general consulting, the design work, equipment procurement for everything that they need… as well as the ongoing support and monitoring,” explained Ralston. “The reason that we got into (the market) was because we were contacted by a couple of people looking for (security) and we really had the whole vertical introduced to us. The majority of our business has actually been more word of mouth than advertising even. We’re actually picking up the advertising side right now, but I had somebody come to me and say, ‘you know this is a great space and we’ve got a real need here; can you help us out with this?’ I started looking at this a little bit more and thought this was a fantastic opportunity for us. We’ve actually got a whole lot in the pipeline that were working on right now for it.”
Ralston emphasized, however, that DirectView is not “pigeonholing” itself into being just a provider of security services to the cannabis industry and pointed out the fact that they are a publicly-traded company that sells to all industries. “This just happens to be a terrific industry that needs our services,” he said.
Aside from securing product and cash on hand, Ralston said one thing that’s they’ve found unique in working in the cannabis industry is the need to provide constant monitoring of temperature and lighting within these marijuana growing facilities.
“Besides worrying about the cameras, perimeter security and who is coming in and who is going out, the access control and alarms, we also have to worry about the temperature and lighting inside because, obviously, the marijuana requires certain lighting and certain temperatures so if there is any variance in that, it could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.
From an actual security perspective, Ralston said it’s paramount for these cannabis businesses to have high-quality surveillance systems.
“The security that they need has to be good. They can’t be going and buying over-the-counter cameras that are just basic, cheap, ‘oh I went to Costco and I got it for $200,’” he said. “The problems that they run into is they need to have recognition of people. When they go for the playback or even the security people monitoring these cameras, they need to have good quality. They need to have the proper cameras. There are cameras that we sell that are designed to work in certain lighting conditions, so you may have a door coming into a location with the sun coming in behind it. Well, we have specific cameras that are built for that. The cameras that are put into the grow rooms… you can’t use infrared. We’ve run into instances where people have had us come in and the prior (company) had put infrared cameras in there and that’s not good for the plants, it’s very bad for the plants actually.
“Some of the challenges that they’ve faced could be where they hired a trunk slammer to come in and they put in some cheap system and then it’s not up to par. The biggest thing is if it’s not up to code, then the people will come in from the state and local agencies and shut people down until it is up to code. They have to have everything working right. Security is one of the most paramount things that any of these grow and dispensary facilities can have.”
In addition, Ralston said that dispensaries also require strict access control measures, especially in their cash rooms.
“We have to fortify cash rooms and the cash rooms could look like a big, giant walk-in closet that’s actually a vault or even a small room. It could be a 12x12 room and it sounds crazy, but it’s loaded with cash and product that you’ll find in there and we have to put a lot of security behind it,” added Ralston. “We have to put access control on it. In some instances, we design something that would have two or three levels of access to even get into the room and also have the proper amount of cameras and everything that goes along with that.”
While the market obviously holds a tremendous amount of potential for security installers, product manufacturers have also started to design solutions specifically tailored to meet the needs of the cannabis industry. Earlier this month, Securitech Group, a maker of specialty locking solutions, introduced its new Trident MultiPoint Lock deadbolt locking solution which was specifically designed with marijuana dispensaries in mind.
For DirectView, Ralston said that the challenges they’ve faced working in the industry itself have been minimal. “The only thing that I would say could be a bit of a challenge sometimes would be the sales cycle. On some of the locations it could be a very long sales cycle because you have to wait and go through the permitting (process) and this and that,” added Ralston. “The other thing is some of these locations, I had one person the other day who had their bank account shut down because they are obviously involved in marijuana sales, so they had to wait to get their money in order. But besides that, there really aren’t any big challenges that we face.”
Of course, working in the cannabis industry is not for everyone and some security companies have openly expressed a reluctance to work with businesses involved in the marijuana trade. In fact, ADT has already said that it will not provide services to businesses in the industry because the sale of marijuana is still prohibited under U.S. law.
“We want to get to the point when someone is opening a new dispensary that we’re the go to (security) company. We definitely want to own the market,” Ralston concluded. “The potential (for the market) is millions of dollars. I think right now this industry, I wouldn’t say it’s in its infancy I would still call it in the embryonic stage. I think it’s going to be phenomenal for any businesses supporting this vertical.