Security Basics for Cannabis Dispensaries

by | May 19, 2022 | Home Security

The best way to avoid getting robbed? Have nothing worth stealing. But that’s not exactly practical. Instead, you need to take active steps to protect your home, your business, and your property. This is never more true than when you’re dealing with a hot commodity like fine jewelry, expensive electronics, designer bags… And cannabis.

The more something is in demand, the bigger the black market for it and the greater likelihood it’ll be targeted by thieves. And there are few things as in demand these days as marijuana. In fact, the worldwide cannabis market was worth roughly $20.5 billion in 2020. Experts predict this will hit $90.4 billion by 2026.

That’s a lot of demand, a lot of temptation, and a lot of risk. If you own a dispensary, cannabis security should be high on your list of priorities. Whether medical or recreational, your inventory has a target on it, coveted by customers, employees, and others. Loss prevention is key in any retail business, but especially within the cannabis industry. Too much may fall afoul of compliance regulations in your state. Beyond the value of stolen product or cash, you could be looking at fines, closures, audits, and even the loss of your license.

One example puts the need for security into perspective. Following a string of robberies in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, marijuana businesses in Oakland sustained more than $5 million in combined losses before finally asking the local police for additional protection.

Put simply, cannabis security is crucial.

The American Cannabis Market

The market for cannabis products in the United States is big. And growing.

Since 2012, 38 states and the District of Columbus have legalized medical marijuana. In the same timeframe, 18 states and D.C. have legalized recreational use for those over 21. Combined with Canada, which legalized marijuana at the federal level in 2018, the United States accounts for the bulk of worldwide sales by a wide margin.

Retail stores in California sold $5.2 billion of cannabis in 2021, up from $4.4 billion in 2020. Other states have seen explosive growth, too. Sales figures for 2020 included:

  • Colorado – $2 billion
  • Oregon – $1 billion
  • Washington – $1.4 billion
  • Illinois – $1 billion
  • Massachusetts – $700 million

Dispensary security is important for the obvious reasons and less obvious ones: every state has its own requirements that businesses must follow to stay compliant. You can find yours with a quick online search using “[your state] dispensary laws” or something similar.

With more than 28 million residents over the age of 21, California is the world’s largest legal cannabis market, so we’ll take a closer look at some requirements specific to the state and its marijuana industry.

But before we do that, let’s start with some general protection.

Cannabis Security Essentials

Your dispensary is your livelihood. You’ll want to keep it secure and safe from threats both within and without.

Cannabis security is twofold: Protect your premises. Protect your product.

Dispensary Premise Security

If you’re operating a brick-and-mortar retail space, you need to secure the building itself. At a minimum, include:

  • Security cameras at points of entry, the retail floor, and your storage/backroom
  • Alarms on doors and windows
  • Controlled access with strong locks and/or keycard swipes
  • Excellent lighting both inside and around the outside perimeter (would-be thieves prefer the cover of darkness)
  • Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) strategies, such as natural surveillance and clear sightlines

Any retail operator needs protection against customers and employees, so you’ll want to point a camera at the checkout register as well.

Depending on your location and ability, consider investing in additional safety measures, such as a weapon detection system at the main entrance or motion sensors. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry.

And don’t forget about high-quality fire alarms, too. It would be a shame to watch your entire inventory—ahem—go up in smoke.

Your premise security is the first line of defense for the valuable product and cash you have within it.

Cannabis Product Security

Marijuana is a highly sought-after product because it is in demand and easy to move. Would-be thieves can make off with a large amount if they gain access. That’s not to mention the large cash reserves cannabis businesses likely have as well. Dispensaries are still primarily cash businesses, as many customers prefer paying cash to using credit cards, which leave a paper trail. In addition, some dispensaries have trouble getting a business account.

Security starts with the premise, but continues with the product itself:

  • Cash safe, product vaults, and locked display cases with shatter-proof glass on the retail floor
  • Daily inventory checks
  • Secured transportation of cash and cannabis
  • Restricted access for employees to the product vault and/or grow rooms
  • Employee ID cards that track transactions and access to restricted areas

You’ll want to protect your product in-store, in-transit, and from an insider. Roughly 90% of money and product loss is due to employee theft, so take precautions, including comprehensive background checks.

A cannabis-specific point-of-sale system like Barnet or GrowFlow can keep records of all transactions, manage your inventory, create automated compliance reports, and track age and quantity limits for you. That protects you, your business, and your staff.

Beyond that, design explicit policies around hiring, training, and day-to-day operations. When everyone knows how something should be handled, it’s easy to spot when someone goes off-script for whatever reason.

Cannabis security is just like security for any other business, but it comes with regulations and requirements that operators can’t ignore.

Let’s look at California’s regulations.

California-Specific Cannabis Security

The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) is the government agency in charge of licensing and regulating all cannabis businesses in the state. Its regulation guide clocks in at 138 pages, and it’s dedicated to proper tracking from “seed to sale.”

Any cannabis business in California must use the Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance (Metrc) system. It’s the biggest track-and-trace product available to simplify and automate reporting to the state government. California businesses must submit reports every day by 11:59 pm. In addition, they must keep sales, stock, and transaction data for 7 years.

Every marijuana retailer must have the following security measures in place according to DCC regulations:

  • 24/7/365 video surveillance of all areas with product and every checkout register
  • Alarm systems on points-of-entry
  • Commercial-grade locks
  • Cannabis security guard(s)
  • ID badges and/or keycards for employees
  • Limited or restricted access areas
  • Secure storage area(s)

Of course, these are just some of the regulations and requirements. The manual is 138 pages, after all.

The security cameras, for example, can’t be just any model. They must have a minimum resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels and at least 15 frames per second. Businesses must save surveillance footage for at least 90 days, so the cameras must be capable of recording and storing whatever they capture. DCC stipulates that cameras must be pointed at limited access rooms, point-of-sale areas, entrances, exits, and all areas where cannabis is stored, displayed, weighed, packaged, or moved. Additionally, entrances and exits must have 24/7 coverage. No exceptions. Gates and fences must be monitored at least 20 feet out from the perimeter of the building.

A professional security company must install, monitor, and respond to security alarms. This is not the time for DIY-ers.

The California cannabis market is massive, but so are the regulations.

The Deep Sentinel Solution for Dispensaries

Deep Sentinel is proud to offer cutting-edge security cameras with unparalleled live monitoring, response times, and crime prevention. Both the wireless cameras and PoE cameras exceed DCC’s requirements and come with high-quality two-way audio, alarm sirens, night vision, and 24/7 live surveillance.

Using a proprietary combination of custom AI—to differentiate between potential threats and squirrels, delivery people, or passing pedestrians—and live security personnel, you have real eyes on your dispensary in real time whenever someone comes near your property.

Guards quickly assess the situation, intervene as necessary, and notify the authorities within 30 seconds if required. Zero false alarms. Total cannabis security. Live interaction via two-way audio is often enough to stop would-be burglars in their tracks before a crime even takes place.

It is possible to stay protected, proactive, and compliant without spending a fortune. High-quality cameras, high decibel alarms, live surveillance, and two-way audio are not only effective security measures; they’re also powerful crime deterrents. Go beyond the minimum without spending to the maximum.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So protect every ounce.

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