Cultivation Security: 16 Theft-Prevention Tips & Strategies

Features - Risk Management

July 3, 2017

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It seems everyone wants a piece of the cannabis industry. Whether it’s entrepreneurs, career-changers with green thumbs or major investors, the market is drawing attention from a wide range of people. Like any high-value business, it also attracts the interest of thieves.

Courtesy Canna Security America

In December 2016, one of Oregon’s largest cultivators, BlueSky Gardens, lost “hundreds of pounds” of harvested cannabis after thieves beat the owner, tied him up and drove off with the product, according to an article published in The Oregonian on Dec. 29.

Growers already must follow stringent regulations, on all aspects of their businesses, that could lead to hefty fines and possible business closure if they don’t comply. States also have minimal requirements for security, but they may not be enough to protect valuable assets, including product, growing equipment and materials—not to mention people—from thieves. Growers should consider a combination of various technologies and strategies to protect themselves and their investments. This includes surveillance cameras, biometrics, high-tech door locks and common-sense preventive measures.

Cannabis Business Times interviewed several industry experts to gain their insights into security best practices, and the latest surveillance and protection technologies on the market. Here’s what they had to say.

Don’t Be Naive About Crime

On average, about 10 percent of a grower’s product walks out the door, says Tom Siciliano, president and CEO of Canna Security America. Having video surveillance in place and letting employees know the cameras are there can help minimize the risk.

TIP Ideally, growers should know crime rates for a particular area prior to opening a facility there. One of the biggest security mistakes cultivators make is a lack of awareness about local crime rates, says Brian Kunkel, president and CEO of The Bri-Bet Group, a provider of security and risk-mitigation services based in Baltimore, Md. When Kunkel, who also serves as a deputy chief with a law enforcement agency in Maryland, consults with cultivators, he often shares local crime statistics so they can make educated decisions about their security needs.

In many cases, though, theft is the result of an inside job. On average, about 10 percent of a grower’s product walks out the door, says Tom Siciliano, president and CEO of Canna Security America, a cannabis security solutions firm based in Denver. TIP “You want to make sure you minimize your leakage walking out the door,” Siciliano says. “You need to have monitoring systems where you can keep your people in sight, so they know you’re watching them as well.”

TIP In addition to product, growers also should ensure their additional assets are secure, including lighting, fertilizer, seeds, storage units and racking systems, Siciliano says. “Selling lighting or equipment is something we find thieves also going after,” he says.

Form a Security Plan

Understanding internal and external crime risks will help growers establish a security plan. TIP According to Kunkel, a security plan should include an assessment of at least:

  • Facility location and construction: Are there any potential vulnerabilities, such as high vehicle traffic, that might require fencing or other barriers, such as bollards? Bollards are structures, such as concrete posts or the red balls in front of Target department stores, that can help prevent a “smash and grab” by making the area inaccessible to vehicles.
  • The type of facility: Indoor and outdoor facilities inherently face different risks. For example, outdoor facilities might be more vulnerable to spying activities, including the use of drones. TIP Kunkel suggested that if you notice drone activity, you should call law enforcement. He said reportable incidents are tracked by the FAA. He noted that there are electronic or manual technologies available, at various price ranges, to capture drones—ranging from a shotgun that has a net system to capture the drone to electronic pulses that will disable the drone.
  • Ingress and egress activities: How are you going to monitor who is entering and leaving the facility? What type of tracking and permission capabilities are you going to use?

Some growers don’t want to invest in the security technology, while others believe they don’t need to worry about crime because they’re small “mom and pop” operations, Kunkel says. TIP The reality, though, is that the less secure a facility appears to be, the more vulnerable it is. For example, a higher-volume cultivation operation with cameras, closed-circuit televisions and security guards is likely less attractive to thieves, he says.

Surveillance 101

Most facilities are required by state regulations to use cameras to cover all grow spaces within the building and some of the exterior areas, says Jody Vukas, Smart Gro Pros, a cannabis industry consultant and cultivator. Exterior requirements typically include cameras located outside of entrances. TIP Vukas also recommends placing cameras that cover all areas of the building, from parking lots to utility areas that are commonly serviced, such as gas meters.

TIP Security cameras should show every square foot of cultivation and dispensing facilities, says Ted Daniels, CEO, National Cannabis Security Services. In some cases, growers may even want to have overlapping coverage, Daniels says.

“The last thing you want are any blind spots,” he says. TIP “As far as entrances and exits, one should be placed on both sides of the entrance and exit. A high-resolution camera should be able to catch facial features, especially on the interior. The exterior should also gather images of the parking lot and ingress-egress areas.”

Courtesy National Cannabis Security Services

Many states have guidelines on what resolution level the cameras need to be and specific areas in a facility for camera placement. TIP For grow rooms, Daniels recommends stationary cameras at ingress and egress points. TIP For a lobby or counter camera, he suggests cultivators use cameras that can pan, tilt and zoom. TIP For exterior areas, Daniels says growers should use both types of cameras with the addition of infrared capabilities.

The cost for a camera system varies depending on the vendor, the software and the equipment. Lower-end systems cost about $50,000, according to Daniels. Higher-end systems can cost more than $300,000.

“This is all dependent on the state-required back-up, software and if the system needs to be set up in a manner where the state Department of Health or state police need to have remote access to your surveillance cameras,” Daniels says.

Beyond the Basic Dead Bolt

While video-surveillance requirements are common, few states have regulations concerning door locks. TIP That’s another critical security feature many growers overlook, says Vukas, who has designed and built 12 cultivation facilities.

A common theft scenario involves a current or former employee who will break into the facility by popping open a door with a crowbar. “They know where they’re going because in the camera playback, you can see ... they go straight to a bolt where there’s a metal door,” Vukas explains. “They pop that door, and within five minutes they’re taking $3,000 to $5,000 worth of product.”

Vukas uses Securitech’s Trident locking system to protect all the entranceways and exits facilities from break-ins. The locking system has five bolts around the perimeter of the door including two hinge-side deadbolts instead of the standard single-bolt system that’s typical in most commercial facilities, says Randy Porter, an independent sales associate for Securitech Group Inc.

In the early years of the cannabis industry, many growers were using single-bolt systems with a paddle bar that you’ll commonly see on “emergency-only” exits, Porter says. “That type of panic bar you push when leaving a building or exit takes five seconds with a crowbar,” he says.

The multi-bolt system is common in many high-security operations, such as post offices, pharmacies and military operations, Porter says. It provides additional protection, including an outside door lever designed to snap off if force is applied, without compromising the deadbolt functionality, Porter says.

More Protection Steps to Take

Courtesy The Bri-Bret Group

Other technologies to consider include biometrics (that monitor/recognize physical characteristics, such as fingerprints) or retinal scans. Some of the challenges to overcome with these types of technologies is the cost and the perception by private industry that they’re intrusive, says Kunkel. A basic biometrics system costs “several thousands of dollars,” he adds. Biometrics can be used to track employees, visitors or even the products.

TIP Cultivators can take additional basic steps to improve security, including leaving the property in groups instead of leaving alone, Vukas says. TIP He also suggests keeping the area well-lit.

TIP Also, focus on being as efficient as possible, says Vukas. The most efficient cultivation operations require fewer employees, which, in turn, reduces security risks. “A lack of efficiencies in your systems and operations requires more employees,” Vukas says. “If you can minimize the amount of employees in the building, that’s just good business in general. It allows you to control a smaller pool of employees.”

Sufficient security, beyond what state regulations require, can be an investment, but the costs of insufficient security can be even more significant when it comes to your team’s safety and product protection.

Jonathan Katz, owner of JSK Communications, is a freelance writer with more than 15 years of experience in the publishing industry. He was editor for Industry Week magazine for seven years, and former associate editor for Lawn & Landscape magazine. Prior to starting JSK Communications, Katz served as a client services manager for Content4Demand, a content marketing agency.