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Specialized Security Needs of Cannabis Operations

A look at how the roles of basic technologies function in a growing and retail environment

Twelve states are now “recreational” marijuana states, offering a wide variety of cannabis products. In addition, nearly two dozen states are “medical” marijuana states, offering cannabis products through a doctor prescription. In 2020, there are thousands of facilities involved in the cannabis industry in some way—production, processing, storage, transportation, and retail.

Such a new and different type of industry presents a wide array of security challenges. For starters, many of these operations have large amounts of cash on hand, because they operate outside of regular banking channels. One analysis by the Wharton School of Business Public Policy Initiative found that,”… in the absence of being banked, one in every two cannabis dispensaries were robbed or burglarized—with the average thief walking away with anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 in a single theft.”

Lots of cash plus an attractive, often portable set of products make external break-in and theft a big problem for these businesses. In recreational Colorado, Denver police report more than 100 burglaries of cannabis dispensaries per year, and that’s just the retail side, many other facilities are vulnerable too. For integrators/installers seeking to service this fast-growing industry, what do they need to know to offer cost-effective, successful security solutions?

Effectively scale large footprint facilities and standardize the approach for every facility with proven solutions tailored specifically to the cannabis space. Central (and remote) enterprise management provides streamlined collective platforms and ease of processes throughout the varying facilities with the touch of a button or key stroke. Now, let’s look at the specific technologies as they relate to security for cannabis operations.

Specialized Security Need 1

Video Surveillance

Constant eyes and visibility on your operations—products, money (cash-based businesses), transactions, shipping, etc. Heavy regulations require visibility and audit trails everywhere—processing, packaging, once transactions are recorded, and on it goes.

When designing video surveillance for cannabis operations, what other challenges must be overcome? Three factors come immediately to mind: type of cameras, Megapixel range, and placement. These factors are critical and must be integrated into the overarching plan and allowable storage. Ask yourself: what events are you trying to capture and why?

All cameras out of the box have certain capabilities, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the highest capability is called for. For example, a coat closet camera in a facility recording 24 hours a day at 4 megapixels is not necessary – but may be required for state regulations. Instead, set the camera’s resolution to 1 megapixel. The black nothing it is recording is not occupying 4x as much storage on the server just to be compliant. Insight: look at the environment and determine what you need to record, then select the camera that specifically addresses that application or purpose. This is critical because when you have to balance storage constraints—you can’t just record everything. Even if you could, no one has the time to view all that video!

The integrator must size system footprint around different state regulations. Michigan has a 30-day video retention requirement. But Pennsylvania demands you keep a 2-year trail. Retention regulations will affect network video recorder decisions as well. It is critical to select a system that can scale in performance, capacity, and operational use. For a facility with 100 cameras and 30 days’ retention, you can get by with one NVR. Simple. Another facility in another state with a 2-year requirement and 500 cameras spread over several buildings is a completely different system and design. One size does not fit all, not even close. The successful integrator knows a multi-state operator needs 3, 5, 7 or more different designs to meet different environmental factors and regulatory requirements.

Cameras in cannabis retail environments are positioned for situational awareness. In retail spaces, 360-degree fisheye cameras supplement human vision, in addition to using zone cameras. On the retail floor, if a customer is handling some product you may have four cameras looking at you, including a 360-degree. 360-degree cameras also provide very useful analytics like heat mapping, which assists with product display and placement. Insight: In addition to security functions, cameras can perform crucial sales and marketing functions for the business. It’s the integrator’s job to introduce the end user to all the possibilities available.
With experience, the best integrators have been able to help define how cameras function and are designed for cultivation facilities. One top-level demand is to mitigate light pollution. Going beyond the security details, the integrator must work as a partner in the successful growth of plants. A great example is the recent development of the “Black Out Camera: an integration with the alarm system that triggers the cameras infrared lights while minimizing light pollution is a win-win for the grower and their security needs.

Conclusion: Video surveillance is not just meeting the requirements of the regulator. The emphasis must be on the standards of security and video surveillance, but there has to be a solid understanding of the environment. The synergy between the integrator and the security solutions specified plus the environment are pivotal to the success of the overarching plan.

Specialized Security Need 2

Access Control

While a well-designed video surveillance system can protect what is inside your retail location or cultivation facility, access control is arguably the most pivotal piece of the overall plan. From keeping the public out of specific areas to limiting the movement of employees, access control can be one of the toughest parts of security planning.

Cultivators are competing heavily for licenses. In applications, they are going above and beyond when it comes to access control. The problem then becomes when they win the license, they must live up to what was committed to in the application—not necessarily what is required, so they’ve overshot. Insight: The best integrators know these rules and regs, and they get in front of it by working with companies during the application process to navigate and plan the most appropriate access control systems and features.

The access control system must meet regulations. Regulations tells us we have to keep track of where people are and their movement throughout the facility. Certain multi-use facilities or campuses may have retail, production (growing), and processing all within hundreds of yards of each other, and access control has to control the movement of people, where they can go, but more important where they cannot go.

Electronic access control (EAC) systems have the power and reliability to manage people and movement while taking out human error. Humans are notoriously unreliable at shutting doors, locking doors, not propping doors open, no letting their friends in, and on it goes. EAC systems don’t have friends, don’t make subjective calls, and they never get tired. The control and audit trails cannabis operations must have depend on user-friendly, scalable, and flexible EAC systems—accept no substitutes here.

Insight: Some key features of the best systems to employ include: key card or fob that gives the time stamp, the door, the person, etc.; push one button and everything can be de-activated for former employees; access can be controlled at a granular level—each employee can have an individual access plan of exactly what doors, what days and times, and for how long.

While the EAC system can get to the most granular of options, it is equally as important to have a system that scales. Selecting a system that supports 20 doors that does not scale can be troublesome for the growth of the business. Scaling goes from the actual facility build out, it is critical to know capacity planning for the future. If there is consideration for growth, it is important to know scale, then you don’t have to confront costly limitations to re-do the architecture to support new, on-going growth.

Specialized Security Need 3

Intrusion Detection

The best systems include varying types of sensors with targeted placements to track vibration, motion, glass break, and more. Contact sensors integrate easily with video surveillance to trigger cameras upon alarm.

Insight: Keep in mind, too much security, too much intrusion, can be a bad thing. More sensors don’t necessarily make a facility more secure. It is actually counterintuitive: 100 sensors in a given space is not better than 30 well-placed, well-thought out sensors. One hundred sensors are going to give you far too many false alarms. For cannabis operations, less is often more, but defining the right “less” is a process in which you cannot afford to miss a single detail. That’s why the end user cannot rely on just any integrator to secure their many and varied facilities each posing different challenges.

It is critical to understand the local municipalities, towns, and states requirements related to intrusion detection. Knowing if a business is in a geographical location that has to comply with the False Alarm Reduction Act is key. Integrators should emphasize that with every deployment or installation of an alarm system, an annual test is needed to ensure the system is behaving properly. Intrusion detection because of system failure due to maintenance is costly, unnecessary mistake. Cameras are live, you know if they are online. With sensors, they are just there. Is it working? Is it not? With integrator coaching, the facility must implement heightened awareness of its intrusion detection capabilities.


With all of the security pieces mapped out, the most iron clad security plan requires that IT and network infrastructures remain necessary as part of the process and planning. The focus on physical, in facility attack and loss is just one side of the coin. What about those security attacks from outside? The ones that don’t require someone to take a single step into your facility but can inflict major damage from the simple stroke of a keyboard? With limited regulations in place related to cyber policies, qualified, knowledgeable IT integrators are an essential piece in protecting your data and facilities.

At the end of the day, the right security system for cannabis operations has got to be informed, comprehensive, regulation-compliant, but also sensible. It must take into consideration police response times, minimize the occurrence of false alarms, and secure the property from every angle—visually and physically. Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts to designing and installing security systems for multi-state, multi-function cannabis operations. I hope this article has provided insights into what the best integrators know and can do to navigate this fast-growing, complex market.