Cannabis Cultivation Security: 13 Tips

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Protecting your business from theft goes beyond complying with state regulations–and the biggest risk you face might surprise you.

August 6, 2021

Like banks and jewelry stores, cultivators deal in a high-value product and a cash-heavy business that can appeal to thieves. Cannabis Business Times interviewed security experts to provide tips for growers to ensure you are running a safe and secure operation.

1. A monitoring system has a dual role: security and compliance.

Unlike in most industries, security systems for the cannabis industry must do more than protect against crime. A security system “needs to start out, at its core, as a compliance verification system for the state,” says Noah Stokes, founder and former CEO of CannaGuard Security in Oregon. “The design, equipment and placement of a security system needs to be tailored to this need to prove compliance. In a nutshell, you are buying cameras to look at yourself.”

If you run a convenience store and your cameras go down for a time, the risk is private and limited to your own desire to capture illegal acts on camera. If you are a cannabis grower, however, the stakes are much higher: State regulations spell out compliance requirements for security systems, some even down to the camera resolution required, so, at a minimum, reading and meeting these requirements is a must.

2. Find a security company that has experience with regulated systems, and make sure they understand local requirements.

You don’t want to pay a lot for an expensive system that’s not tailored to your state’s specific requirements. Inquire about the firm’s experience installing systems for heavily regulated industries and familiarity with state requirements.

To comply with security requirements, local rules are just as important as state rules. In Colorado, for instance, the state requires growers to keep off-site storage of recorded security video for up to 40 days, while some cities require much more, according to Tim Cullen, CEO of Denver-based cultivator Colorado Harvest Company.

3. Make sure vendors give you options.

Don’t let a security firm tell you that, because you run a high-risk business and monitoring requirements are strict, there’s only one (probably very expensive) option available. Depending on the situation, “[It is possible] to get a set-up that is significantly less expensive, but very reliable,” Stokes says.

Essentially, it’s less about cost than value: Get the right stuff the first time, but don’t overpay.

4. Leave room to expand.

Choose a security system that is easy to build on, Stokes recommends, because “regulations change [and] your facility changes.” It is worthwhile to buy quality equipment that allows for expansion and sudden changes down the road.

5. Go ‘beyond compliance.’

Doing the minimum to get a green light from state regulators is not a good idea, Stokes says. “Just because the state says you’re good to go does not mean you should stop there, because people can still steal from you.”

6. Install cameras for full rooms.

If you are opening a grow operation and a security contractor doesn’t ask you where bulky items (e.g., big plants, equipment) and obstructions will eventually be located, that’s a red flag. Cameras that are blocked are not helpful (and not compliant). Smart placement to maximize viewing areas is way more important than the raw number of cameras, Stokes says.

7. Early detection is critical.

Security systems should focus on early detection to prevent someone from breaking in, suggests Stokes. Exterior cameras should send real-time notifications to multiple people, including an off-site video-monitoring company.

8. Real-time notices should be sent around the clock.

It doesn’t matter if a vault is unexpectedly opened at 2 p.m., or the system is disarmed at 2 a.m.—owners and managers need to know. It takes just one unscrupulous employee with the right access to pull off a major heist.

9. Protect your highest-value assets.

Understand which parts of your operation offer the most “return” for criminals. Some may think the first priority is to protect the plants, but they should be primarily focused on their dry storage, says Tony Gallo, managing partner of Dallas-based Sapphire Risk Advisory Group, a security general contractor that works with cannabis businesses on loss-prevention programs.

“If you are going to rob a grow facility, would you steal 2,000 plants, or would you break into the dry storage facility and steal $5 million worth of product?” he poses.

10. Inside jobs are more likely.

Realize that external dangers are actually not the biggest threats to your grow operation—internal/employee theft is. Despite this, the lion’s share of security assets invested in are meant to prevent people from breaking in, Gallo says.

11. Have set cash handling policies.

Regularly scheduled cash counts throughout the day let employees know that money is being closely monitored. Have specific people handle cash, and set policies for securing cash after a sale or delivery.

12. Have ‘whistle-blower’ systems in place.

Most people are honest and do not like to see people stealing. Gallo recommends having a drop box, confidential 1-800 number or some other way for employees who suspect theft is going on to notify management. Even if the system is never used, just the fact that it is in place can act as an effective deterrent.

13. Have strict visitor and employee identification protocols.

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Put protocols in place going above and beyond what the state requires, advises Trevor Richie, CEO at Gamma Security Group. “Make sure doors are secure … badges are worn [and that] those badges have photo IDs. Do spot checks. Basic, commonsense security protocols can help a great deal.”

Richie cautions that it’s easy to become lax about maintaining protocols such as set times for people to be on site, check-ins, check-outs, and verification of visitor data.

James Sturdivant is a writer, journalist and marketer. He has written for and edited newspapers, trade magazines and research papers, and is currently a content marketer for a web design firm.

Editor’s note: For more security tips, read the full-length article “32 Security Tips” in the March 2016 issue of Cannabis Business Times.