How Common Is Dispensary Theft?
Look around, and you’ll see news story after news story about dispensary theft at cannabis retailers.
In addition to making off cannabis products worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, thieves have held up delivery drivers, robbed customers as they walked to their cars, and even taken an entire ATM. On top of the financial losses, these crimes can also be dangerous. Often, thieves are armed. Occasionally, they’ve gained access to a dispensary by driving a car straight into it.
How often does cannabis dispensary theft happen? What can you, as a dispensary owner or manager, do about it? Below, you’ll find the numbers—along with dispensary security solutions.
Dispensary Theft: How Common Is It?
National statistics about dispensary theft are hard to come by. Cannabis is still banned at the federal level, so there aren’t any federal entities collecting data about this crime. However, Washington’s Craft Cannabis Coalition, which represents dozens of dispensaries, has been keeping track.
According to the coalition, Washington cannabis businesses experienced 67 armed robberies in just the first few months of 2022. That’s roughly double the number committed during the previous year.
These trends seem to be taking place all over the country. In 2020, just one of Colorado’s largest dispensary chains experienced 15 break-ins. Similarly, in Los Angeles, data shows dispensary theft almost doubled between 2021 and 2022.
Why Thieves Target Dispensaries
If you run a dispensary (or if you’re thinking about opening a cannabis business), you likely already know one reason why your business is appealing to crooks: all the cash you keep on hand. Because of the federal-level cannabis ban, many banks and credit card companies won’t work with dispensaries. Plus, the industry has a culture of disliking paper trails. That means many cannabis businesses operate on a cash basis, making them lucrative targets.
In addition to the cash, the product itself has a high street value. Given the light punishment in some states for selling marijuana illegally, many criminals find they can make a good living stealing legal cannabis and then reselling it illegally on the street. Light fines and prison sentences aren’t enough to deter them.
And even without a buyer, thieves can use the stolen product themselves. It’s a consumable product, after all.
3 Tips to Prevent Dispensary Theft
Cannabis and cash have several important factors in common: they’re desirable, portable, and difficult to trace. If you don’t protect your store, your business is in danger. There are many cannabis security solutions, some of which are mandated by law, but here’s the basic process for securing your dispensary.
#1: Consider the Threats
It’s easier to implement security if you know what you’re up against. To protect your dispensary, consider the external and the internal threats.
These are any attacking forces from outside your business. Examples include thieves who break into your store after hours, armed robbers who strike during working hours, and shoplifters. Outside vendors, like suppliers and couriers, may also introduce external threats.
These threats come from within—primarily, your employees. While external burglaries and robberies dominate the news, the reality is that internal threats do the bulk of financial damage to businesses. According to some estimates, as much as 90% of monetary and product loss in the cannabis industry is due to employee theft. At a dispensary in Florida, for example, employees made off with 10,000 grams of cannabis.
In other cases, employees can leak sensitive information to thieves. For example, they might tell thieves the combination to the safe or when security guards go on break. Even if a breach isn’t purposeful or malicious, it’s still a problem you must deal with.
#2: Make A Comprehensive Security Plan
If you want to ensure your dispensary avoids any losses to theft (and stays in compliance with security requirements), then consider security as a comprehensive plan. Here are areas where you can be strategic about dispensary security.
- Hire good people. Always do a thorough background check on employees, ask careful questions during the interview process, and train them thoroughly once you’ve made the hire.
- Develop safety policies. This is especially important for opening and closing the store.
- Install alarms. At the minimum, you’ll want a panic alarm and glass break sensors.
- Add bright lighting. Make some of your lights motion-activated to deter thieves.
- Create a fenced-in perimeter. Think of it as a moat that surrounds your castle. Aluminum is a good choice because it’s hard to climb and easy to maintain.
- Install visible business security cameras. Put them up in all your high-risk areas: the parking lot, delivery areas, and storeroom. Make sure they can see the entire perimeter around your store. Point indoor cameras toward your product and cash registers. This will help you pick up on shoplifting and employee theft and alert you to a robbery in progress.
#3: Secure These 3 Important Areas
When setting up security measures, consider the three main places where dispensary crimes occur.
Inside Your Dispensary
This includes your storeroom along with any storage areas that thieves may try to access after hours.
The Parking Lot
You’ll want to install security measures here so customers feel safe walking to and from your business. Make sure your parking lot has adequate lighting. Consider adding security staff willing to walk customers to their cars.
Delivery drivers are prime targets for thieves, especially when loading and unloading their vehicles. One way to protect your drivers is to change the delivery days and times frequently.
The Best Security Cameras for Dispensaries
Ideally, you’ll want a monitored video system. This video shows why. An unmonitored camera recorded their every move but didn’t stop them from making off with $500,000 in product.
With a monitored system, someone (or something, in the case of artificial intelligence) is watching the feed at all times. Within seconds of suspicious activity taking place, law enforcement gets a call. That gives thieves much less time to do their dirty work. The faster law enforcement arrives at the scene, the lower the likelihood that thieves will get away with lots of cash or products and the higher the possibility of getting caught.
So, who (or what) should monitor your system?
You could hire an onsite security detail to watch your feeds, but this can easily add up to thousands of dollars per month. Plus, human guards can make human mistakes. A more affordable and effective option: outsource the bulk of the watching to artificial intelligence.
Deep Sentinel uses a combination of AI and live guards. An onsite smart hub continuously monitors your camera feeds. When it picks up on suspicious activity, it alerts one of our live guards, who intervene and call law enforcement if needed.
With this AI-human combo, Deep Sentinel’s cannabis live security camera monitoring can activate police within seconds and intervene when a crime is in progress, sending criminals running and preventing dispensary theft once and for all.