Cannabis cultivation is a high-risk endeavor. Not only do cultivators risk all of the environmental threats that any farmer faces, but due to the high cash value of the crop, proper security is a huge concern. Most high-scale grow operations have been the target of theft—some of them repeatedly.
Home growers also face risks, but on a smaller scale. Private growers have the advantage of keeping their grow operations discreet, while the massive scale of many commercial grows makes hiding them virtually impossible. Local word of mouth, cultivation odors, and daily operations activity make the nature of the business obvious to nearly anyone with a good sense of sight and smell. Home growers just need tight lips and comparatively minor odor control to keep their cannabis-growing projects undetected.
One unfortunate aspect of commercial cultivation operations that many companies do not take as seriously as they should is adequate security measures to minimize employee theft. The loss of both cured and uncured flower to unscrupulous employees is something that occurs on a regular basis within the cannabis industry, because of the unlikely chance that small quantities will be missed. The sticky fingers of employees should be limited to contact with the terpenes on ripe flowers, not pocketing of the same.
Let’s take a look at essential security measures that address both external and internal risks to a commercial grow.
Go Beyond Compliance
All state cannabis regulations have a code that companies must follow for cultivation security. The astute and savvy cultivator, however, will recognize that additional measures may be necessary to ensure optimum security.
Alarms and heavy-duty locks are standard practice as the most obvious components of a sound security plan. Alarms should be as loud as possible, complete with flashing lights and audio functionality. There is no reason to hide these security components—they should be obvious and clearly visible, with signs that make their installation and use obvious. The same goes for surveillance cameras placed strategically throughout the grow operation. A wise business owner will go beyond the minimum requirements for compliance and install the best-quality locks, video surveillance, and alarm systems monitored by 24-hour security companies. The number of cameras and their placement should possibly go well beyond the bare minimum required by law, and the resolution on the cameras should be the highest quality possible. Nothing can be more frustrating than clear visual evidence that a break-in occurred, but visual evidence isn’t good enough to make a definitive identification of the intruder(s).
While some theft may occur in the actual grow space, a more typical area of theft will occur in the curing location of the grow since cured flower is easier to steal and is almost in its finished form. Curing rooms and areas with vaults and safes should have overly compliant locks, alarms, and video surveillance systems.
State cannabis regulations are supposed to discourage crime as well as protect the business owners, so those involved with cultivation should welcome them. When considering these requirements, they should scrutinize every security measure. Rather than question why so much security is required, a better line of thinking is to question whether or not it’s enough. Exceeding compliance is often a good idea and will be looked upon favorably by inspectors who visit the facility on a regular basis.
Regardless of whether it’s required or not in any given state, a properly protected cultivation facility should have durable exterior fencing reinforced at the top with barbed wire. While many may think that stealing from a dispensary or cultivation facility is usually a planned, strategic undertaking, this is frequently not the case at all. Smash-and-grab theft is the more-common scenario. Whether it’s plowing an SUV through the front doors of a dispensary or into the pull-down doors at a grow site—both of which happen in Colorado and other states—many cultivation break-ins are spontaneous and lack a strategy or defined plan. Quite often, alcohol consumption on the part of the thieves was a precursor to the crime.
Extra exterior security fencing adds one more visible measure of defense to deter crime. If a cultivation facility can discourage even an attempted burglary, the security measure that deterred the potential crime was worth the effort.
Since cannabis companies require sound and detailed security plans, hiring a security company is the norm—unless the company has its own approved security personnel in place. But all security companies are not created equally, and this is not necessarily an area where the lowest bidder gets the nod.
Real-time security cameras are important, for both interior and exterior locations. In legal cannabis states, 24-hour security is the norm—if not required. Both the security company and company stakeholders should be able to see what’s going on outside and inside the grow at all times. Consider adding security guards for nighttime surveillance, since most cannabis thieves strike at night. Drive-by security vehicles patrolling throughout the night and varying their visiting times are a prudent measure, with thorough monitoring of the grow exterior occurring during each visit. If you choose to use armed security guards, decrease your liability by using professional, licensed armed guards from outside companies rather than arming employees.
The security companies used for cultivation protection need to be well-versed in regulated systems and always comply with the legal requirements of the cultivation facility. The company must be familiar with local industry requirements and thoroughly familiar with cannabis industry security measures.
Properly Secured Safes
Every grow facility should have thoroughly fortified safes for liquid assets as well as cured product. Cured product is a major target of theft and should be monitored by weight when it comes to what sent into the safe and what came out. Only managers should have access.
One area that may be overlooked is securing the safe. All safes must be securely bolted to the floor of the grow facility. More than one thief has transferred safes to remote locales to gain access on their own turf. Properly bolting safes will eliminate this from being an option.
Watchdog and Whistle -Blower Programs
Unfortunately, theft by cultivation facility employees is one of the most likely scenarios of stealing company product. Many cultivation facilities have had employees pocket a flower or two, but theft beyond that is a serious matter that can impact a company’s bottom line.
Cultivation staff turnover can be high, so some employees are not committed to increasing company profit. Unsupervised access to flower—particularly cured flower—should be limited to mostly management-level employees. Incentive programs should be in place for employees to report major facility infractions—which definitely would include the theft of flower. Facility security personnel should supervise all additions and removals from the grow facility safe, and these transfers should have thorough logs to track product movement and distribution.
Buddy system practices should be in place for opening and closing staff members in order to protect the grow at its most vulnerable times for robbery. Employee parking areas should be well-lit, and the entire staff should have easy access as a protective measure for their well-being.
Security measures in the cultivation facility can never be considered excessive. All money generated in the cannabis industry starts with the plant, and it’s the most important and vital company asset, so it should be treated as such and guarded accordingly.
Although attempts at theft are inevitable at a grow site, with sound and thorough security practices in place, losses will not occur, or the very least kept to a minimum.