Although these last several years have seen a boom in cannabis legalization and expansion of facilities, from dispensaries to growhouses, the industry remains in a gray area, legally, financially, and in terms of physical security. While many organizations are dedicated to the expansion of the cannabis business, and while many consultants endeavor to provide guidance for security measures, it can still feel rather challenging entering the cannabis business and understanding the ins-and-outs of mitigating security risks.

This becomes even more apparent when one considers salient risks and factors that make cannabis facilities a prime target for criminal behavior and code violations.

First, most cannabis dispensaries and recreational facilities are cash-intensive businesses, making it among those businesses far more susceptible to shrinkage and an attractive target for burglaries and robberies.

Second, inventory and growhouse equipment carry a significant risk of flammability, intensifying the need for life safety code compliance, fire safety, including clear and compliant means of egress.

Finally, the inventory itself carries a high street value, further making it an attractive mark for criminal activity.

And as these businesses exist in a legally gray area, they are not only closely examined for code violations – they are also often at a disadvantage in seeking redress or reimbursement for losses.

When these factors are taken together, it is clear that security, safety, and compliance should be more than an afterthought in this growing industry, as these are key measures that ensure business continuity. After more than a decade of working with cannabis security and engineering experts, inventing unique and proven locking solutions, and securing the doors of hundreds of cannabis facilities, five recurring mistakes continue to stand out to us.

The first mistake people often make when securing their cannabis facility is not following regulations. Code compliance takes priority for all facilities across the board. However, in the case of cannabis facilities and especially grow houses, fire safety and code compliance are closely monitored and enforced by fire marshals. The penalties are steep.

The best way to ensure their facility is up to code is by maintaining relationships with those who enforce it, such as a state and local fire marshal and reputable architects and contractors who understand the unique risks associated with the cannabis industry.

Owners and facility managers should be particularly mindful of code compliance and the condition of doors and locks that provide both security and means of egress and other compliance standards for their buildings.  The consequences of ignoring such standards, not monitoring your facility closely, or not heeding the advice of experts and local enforcement can range from legal repercussions (such as heavy fines or seizure of a facility) to disastrous consequences (such as combustion or seizure devastating fires).

And while there are expert consultative resources available (which we heartily recommend including in your building and security planning), nothing will take the place of your own initiative to learn about and understand applicable federal, state, and local regulations, keeping the appropriate documents listing them at hand.

The second mistake people make is maintaining poor perimeter security. With valuable inventory comes the risk of burglary. Intruders can range from the ham-fisted to the incredibly well-equipped, and with cannabis facilities increasingly becoming a target of organized crime, it is in one’s best interest to assume would-be burglars have come prepared. It is vital, then, that suitable perimeter security features are put in place for a facility to operate at its most secure.

An excellent system to refer to when making sure a facility’s perimeter security suffices is a set of principles known as CPTED or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Principles of CPTED as applied to the cannabis industry include ensuring long-lasting, bright lighting throughout the facility (avoiding incandescent bulbs, which easily burn out), that the facility is built using reinforced or strong materials (avoiding drywall), and making sure all access points are secure, doors, windows, roof hatches and all.

The third most common mistake made in cannabis security is maintaining poor access control. It is estimated that about 12 percent of cannabis facilities will experience some form of inventory shrinkage, be it in cash or in product. Another study conducted by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, found that cannabis facilities have a remarkable 1 in 2 chance of experiencing burglaries and/or break-ins. Such statistics are staggering and remind one of the importance of mitigating risk. Ensuring the best forms of access control is a great place to start.

The proliferation of organized retail crime targeting the cannabis industry means that would-be criminals have greater access to stronger equipment to enable burglaries and theft, making common commercial locks an ineffective strategy for protecting your facility. Be mindful not to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Saving extra dollars by keeping old doors and locks from previous tenants may wind up costing thousands more in damages and losses that could have been prevented by upgrading to solutions customized for the cannabis industry. And such losses can be difficult to recover through insurance.

The fourth most common mistake is poor intrusion protection. Security camera systems, safes, and other risk prevention measures require the expertise of consultants and security specialists who are familiar with the industry. Security cameras must capture the highest quality film so intruders can be easily identified. They must also be strategically placed throughout the facility, capturing other cameras’ views within the frame if the intruder tampers with one of them.

Given the cash-heavy nature of transactions at dispensaries and recreational facilities, cash loss is another risk that can be mitigated with the installation and utilization of highly-secured safes. When installing a safe, make sure it is TL-rated. Civilian gun safes, a commonly used substitute, can be easily cut into, thus unable to provide sufficient protection to any precious cargo kept inside it.

The fifth and final mistake we commonly encounter is the lack of processes and procedures when it comes to security. An adequately secured cannabis facility is not truly secured without a properly trained staff and comprehensive processes. Promoting a culture of knowledge, accountability, and honesty goes quite far here, and managers and owners should be mindful to maintain this social element of their workforce. If workplace compliance and safety practices are not consistently reaffirmed and shared with staff to ensure the highest level of security and care when handling a facility and its stock, the likelihood of shrinkage, burglary, and criminal activity becomes ever more prevalent.

To promote this kind of environment, it is recommended to post the appropriate signage throughout the facility. These include posters meant to motivate workers and promote a better work ethic and life safety reminders to prevent workplace injury. The correct procedures and processes must also be enforced, with consistent check-ins to see if employees follow guidelines. Refresher training sessions for both novice and established employees should also be given, providing a reminder of the importance and practices of following procedures.

Mitigating the risk of forced entry, burglary, shrinkage, and criminal activity is no easy feat for the fledgling cannabis industry. However, we hope this overview of missteps that we have personally seen in our experience will help owners and facility managers improve their plans and practices. By avoiding these missteps and reviewing their remedies here, you can expect to keep the likelihood of your facility experiencing shrinkage and risk of burglary, loss, and hazard to a minimum.