Securing the medical cannabis industry: An insider's perspective

Nov. 24, 2015
Security consultant describes his journey through the industry in a new book

Successful efforts across the country to legalize the use of marijuana for medical and, in some cases, recreational purposes, has given rise to a booming cannabis industry whose need for security services in the growth, transport and distribution of their product has grown exponentially in recent years. To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana use. And with what seems to be an ever growing number of bills and ballot initiatives being put forth to legalize marijuana use in other states, the role of security firms in keeping crops and profits safe will only increase.   

While many involved in providing security for this burgeoning market have remained relatively mum about it, one man who is attempting to pull back the veil of secrecy that shrouds the legalized marijuana industry to shine a light on the challenges that it poses from both a logistical and ethical standpoint is Brian Laslow. His new book, "The Marijuana Project: A Novel about Medicine and Morality," is a fiction-based-on-fact account of how he entered the medical cannabis industry. The story follows the character of Sam Burnett, a highly sought after security expert who is approached by a consortium looking to open a medical marijuana production facility near his home and the repeated moral conflicts he finds himself facing in his time spent designing and implementing their security program.

Laslow, which is a pen name used to protect his true identity, said that he began his career as the owner of a residential security installation firm which he developed into a larger company where he migrated into the commercial side of the business. He sold his company in the late 90s and went on to do some work for the U.S. Department of Justice before eventually venturing into general security consulting, which is where he was first introduced to the medical cannabis industry.

“The marijuana production facility was another client. They had done some research on me and called me out of the blue,” said Laslow. “It was a cold call from them, so to speak, wanting to know if I was interested in writing the security portion of their application and things went from there. I designed all of their systems – their program, policies and procedures – and then did some virtual security management work for them.”    

Perhaps the biggest difference in designing a security program for a cannabis production facility from a more mainstream client in a typical security vertical, according to Laslow, is the wide variation in state regulations. Of course, 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. 

“Unlike the hospital industry where the regulations are consistent or pretty much consistent nationally or even other pharmaceutical-type companies where the regulations are pretty uniform nationally, the regulations for marijuana production facilities and dispensaries vary greatly from state-to-state,” he said. “You have to have an understanding of what that state’s regulations are and then you have the added fun of it still being federally illegal, so you do have to be careful particularly with transportation on federal roads.”

In addition, because the sell and production of marijuana is still against federal law, many banks have outright refused to accept deposits from those who grow or sell pot or if they do, the fees are so high that it makes using the bank economically unfeasible. This has created quite a conundrum for those involved in the cannabis industry as it is essentially an all-cash business.

“The dispensaries are getting paid mostly in cash by the clients, therefore many of the dispensaries are paying the production facilities in cash and this money has to be deposited and, as you know, banks get very nervous when you deposit large amounts of cash on a regular basis, so that creates problems,” Laslow said.

But an even greater concern to Laslow than safeguarding cash in the production facility was protecting the crop, which was worth well more than any money they had on hand at a given time.

“You’re talking about a production facility that has, at any one time and I’m not exaggerating, millions of dollars’ worth of product in their facility that is just as good as cash, more than most of the banks have in cash,” added Laslow.  

Cannabis growers did achieve a small victory in Congress earlier this year when lawmakers, as part of larger spending bill, voted to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference. Although Laslow believes this will help the industry from a security perspective moving forward, he said the lack of uniformity among state laws will remain a challenge for the foreseeable future.  

And while some security companies have embraced the industry from the very beginning, Laslow said some are still hesitant to jump in with both feet.

“When I designed the system and we went out to bid, there were some companies that refused to bid - whether they didn’t know yet or had made a determination specifically that they were not going to get involved in the industry,” he said. “The same thing with the guard force companies. It’s something they are certainly thinking about. It’s not just, ‘Oh, yeah no big deal.’ They are having meetings and making conscious decisions about whether they want to (enter the industry).”

The ethical dilemma posed by working in the medical marijuana business also weighed heavily on Laslow when he first entered the business.

“When I received the call, I had not even realized the law had passed in my state,” he said. “And that is explained in a fictional way in my book that hey, ‘Is this an industry I want to be associated with? Is this going to affect me in other ways? Will my federal clients be upset that I’m taking this client because it’s still federally illegal?’ And then once you get into it, it’s well, ‘Ok, yes good is being done, but how much good is being done versus what potential harm is being done?’ It really is a gray area. It’s not black and white.”

Although he is not currently working with clients in the medical cannabis industry, Laslow said that he would welcome the opportunity to do so again. "The Marijuana Project" is currently available on Amazon.  

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief,

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.