Commercial security meets the needs of evolving cannabis industry

May 26, 2022
Once federal banking and interstate commerce issues are resolved, major businesses, like liquor, soft drink, and food manufacturers will enter the cannabis marketplace

The nationwide legalization of medical and recreational, adult-use cannabis continues to face slow progress and partisan political disagreement in the U.S., even as more states make marijuana legal and nine-in-ten Americans say they support some form of marijuana legalization. It’s likely a matter of when, not if, cannabis is sanctioned at the federal level.

The shifting legal landscape aside, the dynamic increase in legal cannabis businesses represents a new growth market for commercial security providers, along with responsibilities for integrators to apply their professional expertise in risk assessment, project management, and innovative technologies to implement code-compliant systems that best protect these emerging, high-risk enterprises.

Cash Businesses

Until federal legislation is passed to ease banking restrictions, most cannabis dispensaries are forced to remain cash-heavy operations. Dealing in a high-demand, highly regulated product like cannabis increases the potential for armed robbery and burglary, as well as internal theft, tampering, counterfeiting, organized retail crime, and even espionage.

Therefore, the need is urgent for these cannabis businesses to seek experienced security, fire, and life safety professionals to evaluate risks with a critical eye on the specific type of operation – whether that be a dispensary, manufacturing site, or cultivation facility. An established security partner can establish an effective security ecosystem that can grow and scale up as the customer’s business grows. Experienced integrators can draw on past experiences and work with other high-risk commercial environments, such as luxury retailers, banks, pharmacies, and major manufacturers. Like those required by most cannabis licensing authorities, systems associated with these types of facilities often include intrusion detection, access control (including biometrics), video surveillance (including live video monitoring), secure cash handling systems, fail-safe panic alarms, and code-compliant fire alarms, suppression, and life safety protection systems.

Licensing--Don’t Go There Alone

Before the conversation about security, fire, and life safety solutions can begin, cannabis businesses must first become licensed to operate in their city and state by meeting compliance standards and navigating the extremely complicated and competitive licensing process.  As independent-spirited entrepreneurs, new cannabis business owners may be accustomed to making decisions and doing things on their own. So, it may be unusual for them to seek professional guidance for the rigorous, detailed security requirements mandated by licensing authorities. This is where identifying a trusted security partner is absolutely critical.

A major component of most cannabis business license applications is having a comprehensive security plan that includes meticulous designs and standard operating procedures. Many aspiring cannabis businesses are turning to professional risk consulting firms to help navigate this initial application process, which can include site visits and risk assessments, development of a well-designed security floor plan, including security project management, as well as safety and security training policies and procedures.

If the licensing agency rejects an application as inadequate for any reason, or if the plan is changed mid-stream before the final inspection and stamp of approval, agencies may require a business to start the whole process again, causing expensive delays. Furthermore, a poor application score can permanently disadvantage a prospective cannabis business applicant from future licensing efforts.

Safety Training, Compliance, & Security Interwoven

An often overlooked, but crucial, part of a comprehensive security ecosystem that rigorously protects people, properties, and products is establishing well-defined policies and procedures for the adequate and frequent training of all employees on how to use the security and life safety systems. Employee training plans must consider turn-over rates and proper systems operation with regular reviews and updates to help ensure all employees know how to use security systems. It’s also crucial that employees are trained in what to do in crisis situations that can range from attempted armed robberies to medical emergencies, or natural disasters like earthquakes and fires.

When a company does receive its cannabis business license, a security integration partner can step in to begin implementing recommended products and services, and provide expert installation, inspection, and testing to ensure the operation remains in compliance and up to standards for all codes, regulations, and requirements.  

Innovative Systems to Improve Business Operations

For cannabis businesses, margins are everything, so preventing all types of theft can help protect profits and allow businesses to thrive. As with other retail businesses, the primary cause of shrink in the cannabis industry is internal theft and, while businesses need not be suspicious of employees, today’s smart security systems can help prevent and minimize internal theft by identifying and documenting it in real-time. Advanced technologies using Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the Point of Sale (POS) are growing in popularity among larger retail dispensaries. Sophisticated systems like these have analytics built into the platform to offer business operations metrics, such as tracking customer engagement and shopping patterns. For other operators with less working capital, a trusted security advisor can offer vast technology alternatives to mitigate the risk and still fit the budget.

Preparing for the Future Today

Once federal banking and interstate commerce issues are resolved, you can expect major businesses, like liquor, soft drink, and food manufacturers to enter the cannabis marketplace that they have, until now, avoided due to federal restrictions. When that happens, the already competitive cannabis business environment will become intensely more competitive. These influential players will certainly need and pursue more complex, sophisticated systems for larger distribution centers and warehouses that need to comply with regulations across the entire country.

Preparing now for the future probability of an even more competitive industry can help smaller-scale operations implement security systems that can scale up as their business grows. A solid strategy to consider today is partnering with a fire, life safety, and security integrator that has a dedicated cannabis team already in place, combined with an existing national presence to integrate products and services – no matter the state or region.

Conclusion

Federal legalization aside, all cannabis business stakeholders, whether they are dispensary owners, cultivators, or manufacturers, currently need professional, comprehensive security expertise for their security, fire, and life safety programs, while also meeting stringent state and city licensing requirements.

Partnering with a professional cannabis security consultant with a successful track record of helping cannabis companies obtain licensing can help new cannabis enterprises overcome that first, seemingly insurmountable hurdle by providing risk assessment, application writing, security floor plan and facility build-out development, along with security product recommendations.

For security integrators, embracing technology innovations, ramping up capabilities and establishing long-term relationships with these customers is key to their safety, security, and business success. It’s not about selling a system and then walking away. It’s about being a true integration partner at every stage and making sure the security and life safety systems not only comply with regulations, but are truly helping protect the people, properties, products, and profits to best serve the complex, high-risk needs of this new and potentially lucrative customer base.

About the authors: Andy Fleet Director is the Director of Business Development, Cannabis at ADT Commercial. Tony Gallo is the Managing Partner at Sapphire Risk Group and is recognized as one of the cannabis industry’s leading security consulting firms.
ID 3771803 © Donald Sawvel | Dreamstime.com
Highlights from the ongoing SecurityInfoWatch.com cannabis security regulations series include Alaska, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania
Courtesy of Getty Images -- Credit: Ingo Dörenberg
In March 2019, the state became the first in the nation to license cannabis consumption sites.
Courtesy of Getty Images -- CasarsaGuru
The cannabis industry is in many ways like the pharmaceutical and food industries, and hybrid strains of plants and the specific recipes used to create edibles or vape cartridges are all valuable to competitors, thus rising a corporate espionage threat.