It's no secret that cannabis dispensaries are cash-run operations, making them an attractive target for criminals.
And in recent months, there has seemingly been an increase in crimes targeting dispensaries across the U.S. For example, in February, there were 14 reported crimes at dispensaries in Los Angeles, Cali.--the highest reported number since 2018, Xtown.la reported.
And a recent crime at a Washington dispensary turned fatal when a male worker at the World of Weed in Tacoma was shot during an attempted robbery March 19, Cannabis Business Times reported.
"From the reporting that I've been seeing, there definitely appears to be an uptick in crime, in particular theft involving dispensaries, or at least there certainly appears to be more publicity of those that are occurring," says Michael Sampson, partner with Pittsburgh-based law firm Leech Tishman and member of the firm’s litigation practice group.
"This is a reminder to other dispensaries and others in the industry to take security and crime prevention and insurance coverage very seriously because it shows us and reminds us of the very real risks out there for the industry," he adds.
Here, Sampson shares his top tips and guidelines to consider when establishing a security plan for your business.
1. Determine What's Necessary
"I look at security almost as building blocks, layers or levels, and that is true in both how you determine what's necessary and how you implement it," he says.
As cannabis regulations vary on a state-by-state business, Sampson suggests first looking at your state's rules and regulations, as it can help set a "baseline or threshold" for your plan, he says. For example, your state may require you to have a registered security guard on the premises, which is essential to know, to ensure your dispensary is compliant with those regulations.
He also suggests looking at your insurance policy or other provisions and agreements that may speak to specific security measures your business must have in place.
"It's very important that you look at all the bases that could speak to the type of security you need to maintain," he says. "... Obviously, failure to do so makes you vulnerable to threat, but could also result in issues around your license, issues around your lease, or issues around other contractual provisions."
Sampson also notes that businesses must consider their environment and understand the particular risks and threats in that area.
"I think any security plan at any dispensary or any cannabis operation has to really be multifaceted. It has to be specific to the jurisdiction. It has to be specific to the location. It has to be specific to the situation, but regardless, it ought to be thorough and intentional," he says.
2. One Size Doesn't Fit All
When it comes to establishing a security plan, Sampson says one size doesn't fit all; however, there are several general concepts and actions dispensaries can consider, such as implementing safes to store products and money and having strict access control.
"Access control is very important, whether that's for customers or employees, and that may include guards, locked doors, etc.," he says. "It's important to keep track of the comings and goings of people as permitted by law and privacy so that you know who's there and can ensure safety."
Sampson also suggests having proper lighting inside and around the perimeter of the business as it "serves a number of purposes," he says.
"A traditional ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," - Michael Sampson, partner with Pittsburgh-based law firm Leech Tishman.
"Lighting can be very important, both from a safety standpoint and its deterrent standpoint," he says. "... [Lighting] eliminates shadows, if you will, for people to lurk in it. [It makes it] harder to hide, decreases the element of surprise and simply, the more attractive, well lit, [and] brighter an area looks, the hopefully less inviting it will be for crime."
A well-established security plan considers everything from the indoors of the premises to the perimeter, which can include curbside pickups and deliveries, he says.
"Perimeter control, whether it's fencing or the light, but then also, the thickness of glass for your outdoor windows [is important,]" he says. " ... I think certainly to the extent that you're now permitted to do curbside [pickup], or delivery service for your customers, making sure that you have the appropriate security protections in place, whether it's by having certain safes in your car or taking other steps to make sure your employees and products are protected."
3. Make Sure Your Employees Are Well Trained
One of the most critical aspects of establishing a security plan is ensuring your employees are well trained and educated on how to handle a security or emergency event, he says.
"You don't want your employees freelancing in the event of a crime or something occurring in the store. You want them to know what is expected of them, what they should do, who to contact, who to reach out to for help, etc.," he says.
Having a proper plan in place and ensuring everyone is on the same page can help keep everyone safe.
"Training is hugely important, especially to protect employees and to protect people because at the end of the day, property is replaceable, people aren't," he says. "And so, in my opinion, there's nothing more important to protect here than your employees, your customers, and to really be aware of their physical safety. And I think training and education can go along the way to helping people, protect themselves, protect others, and get through a bad situation."
4. Be Proactive
Sampson says being proactive and having set policies and procedures in place for opening and closing times, handling products, curbside pickups, deliveries, and more will help mitigate risk in the event of a crime.
"I'm a big proponent of cannabis dispensaries having established policies and procedures because then everybody knows what's expected of them and knows what needs to be done," he says.
Although it may take a lot of time and effort to establish these protocols, Sampson says, "a traditional ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
"The time it takes to establish these protocols will probably cost less and be less intrusive than having to deal with a security breach down the road," he says. "It's being deliberate. It's being intentional. It's being proactive and not reactive. It's mitigating risk, and you cannot eliminate risk, but if you take certain steps ahead of time, you can hopefully reduce the risk of something bad happening, or at least if something bad happens, reduce the potential effects."
5. Cyber Security is Just as Important
Sampson also stresses that security is not just about the physical aspect, and cyber security is just as important and should not be understated.
"In a cyber setting, you can do multiple safeguards as well, whether it's multi-factor authentication or other cyber controls; there are the same kind of similar steps you can take in the electronic world to protect yourself in the same manner that you might in the physical world," he says. "And I think to overlook one or the other in this day and age would be a mistake."