Cannabis security in the Last Frontier

Sept. 8, 2020
Alaska’s cannabis laws are open for interpretation, so expert encourages going above and beyond security requirements

Alaska became the fourth state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use in 2015. But in March 2019, the state became the first in the nation to license cannabis consumption sites.

Regulations allow licensed pot shops to seek a special endorsement that permits on-site consumption in a segregated room or outdoor space. Changes to the law address a long-standing problem among state visitors and tenants with marijuana-unfriendly landlords: After you legally purchase marijuana, where can you legally use it?

Regulatory changes, however, do not alter what the state, known as The Last Frontier, requires for security even in marijuana lounges. The same security measures apply. Cannabis businesses need a robust surveillance camera system, a security alarm system, and access control.

Know the Law

The state’s Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office (AMCO) — a division of Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development — administers its cannabis laws, which Alaska codifies in Administrative Code Chapter 306. AMCO processes every application for marijuana business licenses, including retail establishments.

AMCO also monitors specific nuances of the law. Of which, Tim Sutton, senior security consultant for Guidepost Solutions, reports there are several.

For instance, only the flower is legal. “Concentrates and extracts are not,” Sutton says. “That doesn’t mean you cannot use them in the privacy of your own home, but they are illegal to purchase.”

He adds, “The state also allows you to grow your own plants for recreational use. Typically, that’s only a provision for medical marijuana.” 

The law allows residents, 21 years of age and older, to keep up to six marijuana plants in their home, but only three can be mature, flowering plants.

“Here, they have to take reasonable precautions to ensure plants are secure from unauthorized access and they cannot be subject to public view without the use of binoculars, aircraft or other optical aids,” he says. 

And, while the state allows medical marijuana, only 400 residents have obtained a medical marijuana card. Alaska was among the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 1998, but its rules don’t allow for dispensaries. 

Follow the Rules

Alaska ruling AAC 306.720 specifies that licensees install and maintain video surveillance and camera system, but the ruling doesn’t get very specific beyond that.

The state requires that the system cover the following with video cameras:

  • Restricted access areas and every entrance to restricted access areas
  • Exterior entrances 
  • All point of sale areas
  • The interior and the exterior of every entrance

Alaska law specifies that licensees place cameras in a way that produces a clear view that is “adequate to identify any individual inside the licensed premises, or within 20 feet of each entrance to the licensed premises.”

The regulation specifies that any area where businesses grow, cure, or manufacture marijuana must have a camera facing the primary entry door, and in fixed positions, be at a height that provides a clear unobstructed view of all activity inside. 

Sutton reminds us that “there needs to be a camera inside restricted access areas that faces the door” to identify people entering the area. But adds that if licensees adequately cover “any area with plant material” with video, they will meet the law’s requirements. 

Licensees must house all recording equipment and video surveillance records in locked and secure areas that are accessible only by the licensee, authorized employees, or law enforcement officials. 

The law allows using an offsite monitoring service or offsite storage of video footage if security requirements at the offsite facility are at least as strict as the security at the cannabis business. 

Like Colorado, Alaska requires licensees to store video footage for 40 days in an easily viewable format. All recordings must be time and date stamped and archived in a format that can indicate any attempted alteration.

Though the law is very open-ended, Sutton advises licensees to use motion control, unless the state tells them otherwise. 

Set the Standard

Alaska law 3AAC 306.715 requires licensees, employees, or agents at the business to display an identification badge issued by the business. The law further requires the establishment to:

  • Install exterior lighting to facilitate surveillance
  • Put a security alarm system on all exterior doors and windows
  • Establish policies and procedures that prevent diversion and limit loitering

Under the regulation, licensees should install additional security devices but must describe them in their application. Licensees must fully detail the motion detectors; pressure switches; and duress, panic, or holdup alarms in use. Further, licensees must describe the actions they or their employees will take any time the system alerts them to an unauthorized breach of security.  

The regulation states licensees shall limit access with commercial-grade, non-residential door locks on all exterior entry points to the licensed premises. 

“The only real requirement is to secure doors and windows with security alarms,” Sutton says. “They don’t even require backup if the electrical power goes down. Battery backup is standard and will give them 24 hours, but I would recommend protecting their investment with generator power in case the electricity goes down.” 

The security expert, with 30 years under his belt, laments that the vast differences in security requirements for cannabis businesses across the country highlights a need for a common security standard that all states follow. Sutton sits on ASTM Committee D37 on Cannabis that is writing these standards.

Sutton adds, “Alaska law leaves a lot open for interpretation. In that environment, I encourage going above and beyond what’s required. I tell clients that these things are best practices and should be done if you want to properly secure your facility, even if the law doesn’t require them.” 

About the author: Patrick Chown is the owner and president of security system integrator, Safe and Sound Security, and the president of Seed to Sale Security, a national brand serving the cannabis industry. Seed to Sale Security offers security system installation, cannabis security plans, and cannabis security consulting to cannabis companies.