As the legalization of cannabis for medical and adult use gains approval across the United States, new marijuana businesses continue to open in a wide variety of communities. While some neighborhood residents may welcome these new facilities with open arms, others will not. Regardless of whether or not marijuana is now legal, old stigmas and “stoner” stereotypes are still alive and well.
When a new cannabis dispensary or adult-use store opens, some residents will no doubt adopt a “wait and see” mentality, hoping for the best but fearing the worst when it comes to the presence and daily operations of these now-legal stores. The emerging cannabis industry forces people to pause and re-evaluate their opinions about marijuana. A new legal market for what was once an illicit drug requires change—and it’s human nature to resist change. Local business owners and residents may fear that legal marijuana is going to drive down property values and increase crime—but in reality, the exact opposite may be true.
Aligning Community Values with Operations
Owners of new cannabis dispensaries and stores have invested heavily in their startups and are highly motivated to ensure their business ventures become successful and lucrative enterprises. The successful business owner will want to project a professional image and engage in business practices that guarantee continued success in the local community for years to come.
Rather than contributing to the devaluation of property values and decreasing the visual appeal of neighborhoods, the successful cannabis business owner will choose to do the exact opposite by promoting neighborhood beautification. This begins with the visual appeal of the dispensary. Rather than the overused green cross as a storefront beacon, tasteful signage and a professional, unique business name will appeal to a more discriminating clientele.
In order to win a business license to open a cannabis dispensary, applicants face a vigorous application process and stiff competition. When a city announces it will accept applications for a new cannabis business, many established companies will swing into action to secure application approval and business expansion. Since these companies have been through the process before, they are at a distinct advantage.
Including information about sound and comprehensive operational procedures in the application sections for security and community relations will meet favorably with most review boards when it comes time to grant a license and invite a new business into its fold. By including content that goes beyond compliance for security and community plans will not only get the nod from city officials and solidify relationships with neighboring business owners, but it will add an extra layer of protection to the cannabis company as well.
Security Beyond Compliance
Cannabis retail owners can never play it too safe when it comes to day-to-day operational procedures and security plans that take city mandates a step further. Cannabis businesses can be targets of thieves and unscrupulous employees in much the same way as liquor stores. Although all state and local cannabis regulations have codes that companies must follow for retail security, the astute and savvy retail owner and manager will recognize that additional measures may be necessary.
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. This alone will deter crime when potential thieves visit a dispensary during regular business hours to case it out for subsequent attempts to burglarize the establishment.
The same practice holds true for surveillance cameras placed strategically throughout the retail operation. A wise dispensary owner will go beyond the minimum requirements for compliance and install the best-quality video surveillance that’s 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).
Because cannabis companies require sound, detailed security plans, hiring a security company is the norm—unless the company has its own approved security personnel in place. No expense should be spared when hiring the best security team to protect a cannabis business. All security companies are not created equally, and sometimes the highest bidder is the best security option. The security companies used for dispensary protection need to be well-versed in regulated systems and always comply with the legal requirements of the business. The company must be aware of local industry requirements and thoroughly familiar with cannabis industry security measures.
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 a dispensary at all times. Cannabis retail business owners should consider adding security guards for nighttime surveillance, since most cannabis thieves strike at night. Drive-by security vehicles patrolling throughout the night with varying surveillance schedules are a worthwhile measure, with thorough monitoring of the business 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—which could be a huge liability.
Areas with vaults and safes should have overly compliant locks, alarms, and video surveillance systems. Every dispensary should have a thoroughly fortified safe for liquid assets as well as cured product and concentrates. Safes should be large and completely impenetrable. Internal security should be an ongoing concern. Cured product is a major target of theft and should be monitored by weight when it comes to what is placed into the safe and what came out. Only managers should have access. Dispensary security personnel should supervise all additions and removals from the retail safe, and these transfers should have thorough logs to track product movement and distribution.
One area that may be overlooked is securing the safe. All safes must be securely bolted to the floor of the retail 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.
Internal Security Practices
Theft by dispensary employees is one of the most likely scenarios of stealing company product. If an internal theft from an employee occurs once, most likely it will occur again, which is a serious matter that can impact a company’s bottom line.
Dispensary staff turnover can be high—which is true for many retail jobs—so some employees are not committed to increasing company profit. Unsupervised access to company product should be limited to mostly management-level employees. Watchdog and whistle-blower programs should be in place for employees to report major business infractions from team members, which definitely would include theft.
Buddy system practices should be in place for staff members in charge of opening and closing the store; this is necessary to protect the retail business when it’s at its most vulnerable times for robbery. Employee parking areas should be well-lit, and the entire staff should have easy access to ensure their safety.
Local and state cannabis regulations are supposed to discourage crime as well as protect business owners, so those involved with retail sales should welcome them. When considering these requirements, a business owner should scrutinize every security measure. Rather than question why so much security is necessary, 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 to verify that compliance measures are in practice.
Be a Good Neighbor
California cannabis industry studies suggest that cannabis dispensaries may be on the “good list” of businesses when it comes to low crime rates. There are valid reasons why dispensaries help decrease crime. The gentrification that occurs from the opening of marijuana businesses is most likely tied to the competitive nature of this now-legal industry.
All cities want the new businesses in their areas to be successful, create jobs, and be law-abiding members of the local business community. With a significant percentage of cities still on the fence when it comes to legal cannabis, particularly when it comes to recreational sales, prospective cannabis businesses need to be mindful of their images and engage in public relations, sound marketing practices, and projecting a professional image.
Community engagement, enhancement, and establishing positive relationships with neighboring businesses is extremely important. The dispensaries that win licenses repeatedly and expand will be the ones that want to be good neighbors with adjacent businesses, contributing to the gentrification of their areas. Whether it’s providing a cannabis education program to local residents, repaving the strip mall parking lot for their new business and existing businesses at that location, or providing trash pick-up or snow removal for themselves and neighbors who share their parking lot, all of these things enhance the appearance of dispensary locations and build good relations. Cannabis dispensaries have entered the mainstream American business culture and need to act the part.
The legal marijuana industry is here to stay. Regardless of which state you live in, legalization may be coming to your area soon if it hasn’t already. The U.S. and Canada have embraced cannabis and recognized its medical benefits and business potential. Still, perceptions and old biases sometimes die slowly. Some regions of the U.S., even within legal states, have yet to welcome cannabis and will be reluctant to do so. As the medical and recreational aspects of the plant continue to gain recognition and favor, old prejudices and misperceptions will fade. With this shift in consciousness, it should come as no surprise that dispensaries, which are both tax-paying and legitimate, often make neighborhoods more attractive and prosperous. To believe otherwise refutes facts, backsliding into unfounded prejudices.