Security advice for the cannabis industry newcomer

June 24, 2021
Failing to adequately plan, budget for security can have devastating consequences for market upstarts

With each passing year, the obstacles that once stood in the way of legal cannabis consumption – both medicinal and recreational – are falling by the wayside. This year alone, New York, New Mexico, and Connecticut have moved to legalize recreational cannabis use, while Alabama lawmakers recently approved legislation that will allow medical marijuana to be prescribed to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses and diseases.

All told, 36 states have passed laws permitting the use of medicinal marijuana and at least 18 have legalized recreational cannabis use thus far. This has led to a boom in both marijuana cultivation and dispensary operations throughout the nation, but while many see this as an opportunity to cash in on a fast-growing industry, the reality is that there are still significant barriers to entry for those that want to grow and sell cannabis, not the least of which includes a substantial investment in security.  

According to Bill Cousins, founder of Michigan-based WJ Cousins & Associates, a security consulting firm that specializes in the protection of cannabis operations, business owners in the space must realize that their primary security responsibility is the safety of employees as well as their patients/customers, which means that they should build their security program around safeguarding human life within the facility or on the property in addition to protecting the product itself.

“Everything needs to be video recorded; any movements of individuals or cannabis should be recorded, according to the required state laws or regulations,” Cousins explains. “As I tell my clients, think casino. Anywhere you go you should be on camera and anywhere product goes it should be on camera.”

Of course, there is also a stark contrast between the security measures that are required at a cultivation facility where there are a set number of employees that have all undergone a background check versus a retail location in which anyone can walk off the street into the establishment.

“Everything still has to be recorded by a video surveillance system, but you don’t have the overall responsibility for patients or customers. Your cultivation facility is going to have the same requirements but a different degree of responsibility,” Cousins explains. “The cultivation facility may have only 10 employees whereas a provisioning center may end up processing 100 to 200 patients a day coming in and out from the street.”  

And while security requirements may vary by state, Cousins says that the principles remain the same for the cannabis industry.

“Some states set standards of minimum requirements for the security cameras where other states don’t. In Michigan, they don’t set the standard, however; the cannabis facility is on notice that the state at any particular time – the marijuana regulatory agency or the state police – can access your cameras and monitor your activities within the facility,” he adds. “That would prohibit sort of your lower end cameras like you might buy at Home Depot or something like that, so it would require that they be professionally installed by an integrator.”

Seed-to-Sale Tracking

Cousins says it is also imperative that cannabis business operators go above and beyond when it comes to leveraging event tracking solutions for auditing purposes.  

“In Michigan, for example, they use the Metric (regulatory cannabis event tracking software) system for following seed-to-sale of any cannabis products. Every state is going to require something similar, but Metric is a popular software system that is in use.  I also strongly recommend a backup system, or what I like to call a ‘proprietary system.’ There are number of them out there… but you should have a dual audit system – one with Metric and one with your proprietary and the proprietary systems that are out there are very good and the majority of them will interface with Metric.”

In the event a dispensary receives a secure shipment of product, for example, if it is scanned into both systems and there is an outage or some other unforeseen event, then the business owner has an adequate backup system to provide corroborating data or even additional details to regulators during an inspection.    

Pitfalls to Avoid

According to Cousins, one of the biggest missteps that those entering the cannabis industry make is failing to adequately plan for security.

“When you decide to get into the industry and apply for a license, you need to surround yourself with good people – people that are professional: a good attorney to write your application, a good security consultant to help you design your security plan,” he advises. “People think, well, ‘I can do this myself; I can write my own security plan.’ The problem with that is yeah, they might be able to put pen to paper, but if something occurs on the premises afterwards, you are liable.”

For instance, if there is an armed robbery at a dispensary, a patient or customer, whether they were physically injured or not, could file a lawsuit against the business over the fear that was inflicted during the incident.

“We’re in such a litigious society here in the U.S. that I’m going to make all kinds of allegations like, ‘I can’t sleep at night, I have headaches, I can’t go back to work, my relationship with my partner or spouse is damaged beyond repair because of this, I’m so traumatized by this incident.’ Well, if you write your own security plan, there’s going to be a lawsuit and how are you going to defend your security plan in a lawsuit? You’re not, you can’t because you don’t have the knowledge and the training to do it,” Cousins chides.

Another common error newcomers to the industry make, according to Cousins, is underbudgeting for the security services and technologies that will be needed to secure their facilities.

“At the beginning, I’ve seen a lot of clients come in and I ask them if they are funded for this project and they say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve got plenty of cash.’ Then when it comes down to buying the equipment and getting the integrator, well money is tight at that point, so they have to go with a lesser quality camera system and, of course, they are all required to buy alarm systems and access control too,” Cousins adds. “People just aren’t budgeting for security. They consider it a necessary evil, but in fact they do get a significant return on their investment in the event something occurs.”

About the Author: 

Joel Griffin is the Editor of and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at [email protected].