Why cannabis businesses need video analytics

March 16, 2023
As states continue to legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana use, cannabis cultivators and retailers will need intelligent video solutions to meet their growing security challenges

Late last year, Maryland and Missouri became the latest states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In total, 21 states as well as the District of Columbia and Guam now have laws on the books legalizing recreational cannabis use. Another 37 states, D.C. and three territories have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana products.

As state prohibitions on marijuana use have continued to decline, there has been a subsequent boom in the market for cannabis cultivation and distribution. According to a recent report published by MJBiz, sales of medical and recreational cannabis are projected to top $52 billion by 2026.

For security technology companies, this makes cannabis the “next big thing” to try to sell their products into, which leads to a large amount of sometimes misleading marketing vying for the business of a new marketplace.  

With increased cannabis production will also come the construction of more agricultural facilities for harvesting and packaging, as well as an ever-growing number of dispensaries opening their doors in cities nationwide. Of course, businesses across the industry’s supply chain will also require a bevy of physical security solutions as specified by the states in which they operate to not only track the product from “seed to sale,” but to also safeguard people and other assets.

As terms like “AI” and “algorithms” are popularized in the market, their meaning becomes more nebulous. From growers to retailers, understanding the role that physical security solutions realistically play and can deliver will be vital to ensuring that slippage does not become the challenge in cannabis that it is in traditional commercial markets. 

Video Surveillance is a Requirement

Though specific regulations vary from state to state, each one in which cultivation and dispensary sites are allowed to operate mandates the implementation of video surveillance systems along with guidelines for minimum image resolution, retention policies, and other various requirements. However, as end users across other heavily regulated vertical markets are quick to point out, meeting compliance standards does not mean that your business is secure. Doing the bare minimum to get a checkmark on an inspection sheet does not mean that you are taking the necessary steps to mitigate risks to your business, nor will it protect you when facing an actual security incident.

As with any security technology deployment, a thorough risk assessment must be performed to determine where threats are present, what technologies can be leveraged to mitigate against them, and which ones should be prioritized given the organization’s risk appetite. Fortunately, recent innovations in video analytics have provided cannabis business owners with a wealth of new capabilities that simply were not possible only a few years ago.

Unlike the solutions of the past that overpromised and underdelivered, today’s high-trust AI analytics means that organizations and their security teams can treat an alert as if it were coming from a human operator. For example, many analytic algorithms can differentiate between a person crossing a facility perimeter versus an animal or foliage blowing in the wind. These types of frequent false alarms caused many businesses and their security personnel to either ignore or turn off analytic solutions in the past.

More Than Just Intrusion Detection

Video analytics can also deliver far more functionality than simply alerting organizations to potential intruders and are frequently integrated today with other security technologies and business systems.

Improvements in facial recognition have given rise to analytic platforms that enable businesses to leverage faces as credentials, supplementing or even replacing traditional access control systems in some cases. Rather than having a separate system for credentialing and granting access privileges to employees and guests, all this functionality can now be delivered in one system that also provides a video record of those entering and exiting a facility. If an insider threat ever materializes, this data can be quickly referenced by the business to determine the identity of the culprit.

The same goes for point-of-sale (POS) transactions in retail environments. The integration of POS systems and video analytics allows cannabis dispensaries to view video associated with individual transactions to be able to document any incidents of employee theft. In cases of external theft, people, objects, and vehicles can also be easily classified and indexed, thereby streamlining post-incident investigations.

Given that cannabis dispensaries are confined to being all-cash businesses due to federal laws that still classify marijuana as an illegal substance, they continue to be prime targets for criminals. According to one recent report, Los Angeles has seen a substantial increase in crimes targeting cannabis dispensaries, the majority of which have been incidents of theft and burglary.  

As with other retailers, video analytics can also provide a wealth of other data that cannabis dispensaries would find useful for their operations, including heat mapping to see where customers are spending the bulk of their time so that store layouts can be adjusted accordingly.

Evaluating Analytic Solutions 

However, all video analytics are not created equal. While many vendors would have you believe that their solutions are ready to deliver all these capabilities out of the box, the truth is to have analytics that provides a high degree of accuracy requires hundreds of hours of relevant training in the deployment environment, which simply cannot be achieved without significant engineering resources.

Unfortunately, “analytics” and “AI” have become marketing buzzwords meant to convince end users they are getting the latest technology while in practical application, the solutions tend to not function as advertised.  In many cases, the difference between leveraging AI to make your business better, or having a very expensive investment that doesn’t work, is understanding the basic concepts of video analytics or having a technology partner you can rely on who does.  

Be sure to ascertain the relevant industry experience of any analytics providers you are evaluating for your application. Do they have a track record of creating patented analytics technology or are they reselling AI invented by another company? Is the company a video management company or a video analytics company? How long has the analytics company been in business and how many deployments does it have of its solution? 

Find out if the company has service people who live in your country who will help you when you have deployed their system or if they are overseas and need remote access in order to help. Asking these questions can help you cut through the noise and marketing jargon to make a well-informed decision for your business.

About the Author: Matt Powell is Managing Director for North America at ISS (Intelligent Security Systems), a pioneer and leader in the development of video intelligence and data awareness solutions. He has over two decades of experience in security and transportation technologies having formerly served as Principal-Infrastructure Markets at systems integrator Convergint and as a developer of transportation market strategies for Videolarm and Moog prior to that. He can be reached at matt@issivs.com.