The Price of Business

WJ Cousins and Associates founder Bill Cousins was interviewed by The Price of Business Radio—a nationally syndicated show out of Houston—about security issues in the medical marijuana industry.

Kevin Price: Welcome back to this, already, the final segment of today’s Price of Business. Really glad to spend some time with Bill Cousins. And he’s going to give us some insight about security issues in the incredibly expanding marijuana industry. I don’t care what your position is on marijuana. I personally have long been an advocate for medical marijuana and certainly have seen miraculous results when it comes to that. But this is an industry that here to stay. There’s no question about it. Even now, President Trump is giving rumblings of possibly supporting legislation to decriminalize it on a federal level. And states have already taken the lead making it legal.

So to me, it’s just a question of when. And so, security issues about this to me seem to be a timely question to ask. Bill Cousins is our guest. His business is WJ Cousins Associates. And that website is wjcousinsassociates.com. Bill, welcome to the program. Now, you weren’t always in the marijuana space, but you’ve long term been in the consulting and security space. A little bit about your background before we get into our topic.

Bill Cousins: Thank you. I’ve been in this business about 34 years. I started back in the mid-70’s as a local police officer in Michigan’s suburban city of Detroit. And then I went on to have a great career of 22 years with the United States Secret Service, where I retired as one of the assistant special agents in charge of the Detroit office. And then I moved into private industry. And I was director of security for two major manufacturing corporations, international corporations. And then about five years ago, I decided to go out on my own and open my own shop, so to say.

Kevin Price: So you say suburban Detroit, where specifically?

Bill Cousins: Livonia, Michigan.

Kevin Price: Livonia. I grew up– I was born in Ferndale.

Bill Cousins: Oh my gosh. Not far away at all.

Kevin Price: Oh no. A lot of my friends ended up settling in Livonia. I love Michigan. In fact, I’m going up there soon. I’m going to be up there for a couple of weeks. And you can take your guy out of Michigan, but not Michigan out of the guy. So that’s great. And I always love talking to people from the area. But you weren’t always in the medical marijuana security space. Are you exclusively in that space now, or is that just one of the areas that you’re focusing on?

Bill Cousins: That’s just one of the areas that I’m focusing on. About a year ago, just before the law here went official and the state started accepting applications and so forth, I saw a void in that area to provide, which is required by the state, the security plans for the medical marijuana establishments. With that, I just took my years of experience in securing all kinds of facilities all over the globe in the Secret Service, and I just adapted it to the regulations here for this state and to just give them a plan that gets them through the state licensing program.

Kevin Price: Oh, I see. So you help navigate them through that process. And obviously, it’s probably a certain degree of boilerplate, but there’s probably also some things that are unique to each business, I would assume.

Bill Cousins: Exactly. Each facility, each site is unique, whether it’s an old facility or an old building that’s being remodeled and converted, or it could be a new site just with architectural designs. So they’re all different.

Kevin Price: So tell me, what’s unique about security needs for medical marijuana versus other things that you have provided security for?

Bill Cousins: Well, first of all, we all know medical marijuana facilities provide a tempting target to the criminal element, whether it’s individuals or organized crime groups. And the reason for that is, number one, you have a lot of cash on site. And number two, the medical marijuana that’s in the facilities has an immediate street value. So if they take it, they can get rid of it on the street very rapidly.

Kevin Price: And so as a result, are you having to have to do some things for it that you wouldn’t even do for other businesses? And if so, what would that look like?

Bill Cousins: What I’ve done, Kevin, is taken the Secret Service model of 360-degree coverage. So we cover, not just the building itself, but we go into the geographic environment where the building is in, the guarding of the outer, middle, and inner parameters. We help them with selecting employees and how to do background checks, the technology that’s going to be used– the security technology– auditing and tracking, technology, policies, procedures, how to handle visitors, even go through how to open and close the business to protect the employees and the patients that might be in there.

Kevin Price: I guess you don’t want just anyone opening or closing. You probably always want a certain number of people always there for accountability sake. There’s probably a lot of unique things that pertain directly to that industry.

Bill Cousins: I try to tell my clients basically failing to plan is planning to fail. So if we can create the plan, and they follow the plan, it will help them be successful.

Kevin Price: Talking to Bill Cousins. His website– I want to encourage you to get that– one more time is WJ Cousins–I’m sorry–That’s WJCousinsandAssociates.com. So much for my reading abilities. We got about a minute left, a little less than that. But I’d love to get your final thoughts as we wrap up the segment, Bill. And thanks for being with us.

Bill Cousins: It’s my pleasure. And thank you for having me. As you said at the beginning of the interview, this industry is exploding. It’s estimated to hit well over $2.2 billion in sales this year alone in 2018. So we have an opportunity now to legitimize it, use it as a healing measure for the patients, and just legitimize the whole marijuana industry.

Kevin Price: And let me tell you, folks. The miracle stories surrounding marijuana are extraordinary. And if anything else can be abused, everything else can be abused. Unlike tobacco, we can find all kinds of positives that come from marijuana if in the right hands used in the right way. And frankly, to a certain extent, the more we embrace it, the more we can help those who have addiction issues that surround it. So Bill, thanks so much for your time. We’ve got to wrap up this segment with that. And I want to remind you though as we wrap up the show in fact, that the show continues 24/7 at priceofbusiness.com, where we’re continuously adding new content– audio, visuals, articles, and more. We like to say it’s the show that never ends because it continues 24/7 at priceofbusiness.com. All right. While there, engage with us on social media. And remember, The Price of Business is nationally syndicated on the BizTalk Radio Network.

 

For more information about WJ Cousins and Associates, or to contact Bill Cousins directly, use the Contact Us form and be as specific as you can.

Stay alert

The world is going through an unprecedented experience. One that the last few generations have never experienced, and hopefully future generations will never have to endure. Around the nation, events have been canceled, schools and businesses are closed, stores are struggling to keep basic necessities on their shelves, and families are being advised to “self-isolate.” That’s crisis-speak for “Please stay indoors away from other people.”

The uncertain nature of this crisis has caused people to become hyper-focused. They are moving into self-preservation mode. People are so focused on getting what they need that they are moving at a fast pace. They are throwing caution to the wind. Everyone is speed walking or driving too fast just to get to their intended destination and back home as quickly as possible.

When you move at this pace, you develop tunnel vision. You do not see what or who is around you. People who are in this mode lose a basic fundamental of safety and security: situational awareness. The individual is not aware of what is occurring around them. The individual becomes unaware of their surroundings, whether it is a car backing up in a parking lot or whether they are about to become the victim of a robbery.

A prime example of this happened to my wife a few days ago. She drove to the local grocery store and pulled into a parking spot. On her right side was a cart corral and on her left side was another empty parking spot. As most of us usually do, she checked her left side mirror as she stopped the car and turned the engine off. It was all clear. As she opened the car door, another vehicle whipped into the empty spot and struck our car door. The impact shoved our vehicle into the cart corral on the right side and knocked my wife off her seat in the car!

When the other driver was asked why he was driving so fast, he stated he was in a hurry to get back into the grocery store because he had left his cell phone in there. This is a prime example of not slowing down and getting tunnel vision. Just a second or two later and he would have killed my wife.

This is the time for everyone to slow down, take a deep breath, and become aware of their surroundings. As times get tougher and as the stress of this pandemic starts weighing on all of us, people will only become more desperate. Jobs are being lost which adds even more stress. Some people might do things that they would not even consider doing under normal circumstances.

At WJ Cousins and Associates, one of our specialties is personal security and safety training. Along with the advice to slow down and look around, here are some additional pointers.

  • Going to the ATM? Don’t go alone. Take someone with you. As you are withdrawing the money, have someone stand by you and make observations, such as is anyone watching you? Does another individual all of a sudden approach the ATM machine behind you? Are they watching your withdrawal? Having an observer with a mobile phone handy provides another layer of security and acts as a deterrent.
  • Going to the store? Only carry the necessary amount of cash needed to complete your transaction. Criminals will use this time of uncertainty to their advantage. They know you are in a rush, not focusing on your surroundings, so you become a perfect target for a pickpocket or robbery.
  • Stop and look through the window before you walk into a fast-food store or gas station. Are people moving around naturally? Is the business being conducted as usual? If not, do not go in. Back off and call the police.
  • At night, only park or walk-in areas with adequate lighting. Never park way out in the parking lot by yourself in the dark.
  • When walking, keep your head up and look around. At all times, be aware of your surroundings!

These are just a few pointers to help you get through this difficult time. We can all get through this safely by just slowing down and practicing situational awareness.

WJ Cousins and Associates conducts travel and personal safety seminars for corporations, organizations and individuals.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at bill@wjcassociates.com.

Stay safe, healthy and aware of your personal surroundings.

 

 

Leamington, Ontario, was once the major production hub for Heinz brands and had over 85-million square feet of greenhouses surrounding the town. In 2014, Heinz cut back production and caused serious concerns for the 28,000 residents of the small town on the north shore of Lake Erie. Canada legalized recreational marijuana nationwide in 2018. It was a major boon to Leamington. A company named Aphiria moved into town, took over 1.1 million square feet of greenhouses, and now produces nearly 250,000 pounds of high-grade marijuana annually. At current market prices for marijuana buds, that translates to more than $1.5 billion in gross revenues. Aphiria stock is currently trading on the New York Stock Exchange between $5 and $6 per share with analysts predicting a 21% growth rate.

Post-industrial cities in Michigan like Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw were hoping that the legalization of recreational marijuana in this state would result in an economic boom like that experienced by our Canadian neighbors. An MLive article published this past August by Amy Biolchini, reported that Michigan is now one of the top three locations in North America for investors in publicly traded marijuana stocks. Michigan ranks third behind Maine and Massachusetts but is ahead of California and Alaska. The future looks very bright for the industry’s growth, but everybody is waiting for the Legislature to finalize retail sales provisions.

What seems to be holding up the lawmakers in Lansing is a clear understanding of the security requirements for cannabis facilities. Unlike Canada, Michigan is only one of 11 states in this country that has legalized the recreational use of cannabis. It is still an underground, criminal activity in some neighboring states. That means that cannabis-producing, processing, and distribution facilities require more than the average business security measures.

Another stumbling block is that cannabis is truly a cash crop. The federal government still considers Marijuana a Schedule 1 narcotic. Potrepreneurs still cannot deposit cash into an FDIC bank. Doing so would automatically trigger a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR); a document that financial institutions must file with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) following a suspected incident of money laundering or fraud. Banks don’t want that kind of scrutiny and investors are concerned about federal regulators and the problems of managing a cash-only enterprise.

The answer to the current dilemma seems to be that a comprehensive security plan must be developed that will safeguard producers, distributors, and investors. The state has established basic security standards requiring video cameras, alarms, and access controls; however, we don’t believe the requirements are detailed enough to guarantee the security of the facilities, the safety of those who work in this industry, or sufficiently protect the investors who are financing the business.

The state has given local law enforcement primary jurisdiction over facilities and local governments who have allowed cannabis facilities in their community have issued a list of security and aesthetic requirements that they would like to see implemented. For example, nobody wants to see a greenhouse facility surrounded by barbwire-topped chain-link fencing with guard towers and sweeping searchlights. We believe there are some simple solutions that will meet everyone’s needs.

It all begins with a comprehensive, customized security plan. Every plan would contain some common elements like:

  • A thorough crime analysis of the community.
  • Product storage vault requirements.
  • Security windows.
  • Intrusion alarms.
  • Access control.
  • Proper exterior lighting.
  • A 360-degree coverage philosophy.

A thorough crime analysis of the community would include a brief examination of crime statistics in the community, an analysis of local law enforcement agency capabilities, and an analysis of local fire/EMS response times. Most local police know the criminal demographics for their community and can identify any potential threats.

A storage vault for products should be of sufficient size to handle storage and possible packaging of products prior to shipping. Construction features should include reinforced walls, ceiling, and floor. Access control, lighting, interior, and exterior camera coverage, and climate-controlled HVAC systems should be on a secured power source with generator backup.

Security windows are tempered glass and polycarbonate layers with polyester film laminate designed to allow light transmission but be very difficult to break through to prevent unauthorized ingress. Vibration sensors can also be mounted to detect any attempt to tamper with the windows.

Access control is one area where forethought in the design can pay big dividends. A common design feature is the double-entry. For the grow facility, authorized personnel enters an exterior door using a key, a keypad-entered code, or a keycard that admits them into a vestibule with a second door. Entry through the second door into the interior of the facility is accomplished by a second access method which might be biometric, facial recognition, or having a security person admit the individual. There is also a panic button in the vestibule in case the authorized person is being coerced. For the distribution facility, the best practice is that customers are admitted to a lobby area where security personnel verifies their identity, and access to the retail area is controlled based upon the number of customers that can be personally served at a given time. Bollards at the entry allow pedestrian access but prevent the “smash and grab” events that occurred in the industry’s infancy. All points of entry should be limited, well-lit, and monitored by interior and exterior cameras.

Since most criminals prefer to work under cover of darkness, exterior lighting of the facility is a given; however, this is where security systems can be easily compromised. All entry points to the building should be lit as well as parking areas and loading docks. Exterior lighting fixtures should include cutoff capabilities that prevent light pollution beyond the property line and also prevent glare from compromising security cameras.

Developing a 360-degree security coverage philosophy means considering all the ways someone might try to gain unauthorized access to your facility and designing ways to counter those efforts. A well-designed growing facility can be made to look like an innocuous warehouse from the outside but be fortified to prevent unauthorized access using perimeter motion sensors, full-motion camera coverage, and access control systems. A distribution facility can look like an ordinary storefront but utilize security glass, limited access protocols, and obvious camera coverage to dissuade anyone from attempting the illicit activity.

It also means developing protocols for handling and transporting products and cash in a secure manner. It means having secure opening and closing procedures that protect employees and emergency protocols should something happen.  A 360-degree security coverage philosophy anticipates the requirements of the regulators, protects the interests of the investors, and allows for safe and profitable operation of your cannabis facility.

 

Bill Cousins is the founder and President of WJ Cousins and Associates LLC of Lake Orion, Michigan, a full-service firm specializing in Security Consulting, Private Investigation, and Litigation Consulting. Bill has partnered with the leading attorneys and technology integrators in the marijuana industry and is an Advisor to the LARA Working Group. He has more than 35 years in the security industry, including 22 years as a U.S. Secret Service agent and nine years as Director of Security at two major corporations.

Marijuana has become a big business in America. 33 States have legalized cannabis for medical use with eleven decriminalizing usage totally. We have passed the tipping point in public opinion and a bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to take marijuana off Schedule 1 completely and have it regulated like alcohol and tobacco.

The medical marijuana industry in the State of Michigan, for example, is estimated to be $725.6 million in 2019. That is expected to double after recreational use has been codified. The State has placed a mountain of security and reporting regulations on the industry including facility surveillance requirements, transportation security protocols, and even waste disposal rules. This is to protect the safety of the growers and dispensaries. With high-quality buds going for $400 an ounce, theft and hijacking are real business risks. A qualified security expert is as necessary for this business as electricity and running water.

There are few security experts more qualified than WJ Cousins and Associates. It is a full-service firm offering security planning and consulting. The founder, Bill Cousins, has over 35 years in the security industry; 22 years of that spent as a U.S. Secret Service agent. He has also spent nearly a decade as a Director of Security in the corporate world and is considered a subject matter expert in facility security and threat mitigation. Cousins has quickly become the preeminent expert in the security requirements of the cannabis industry. He has partnered with the leading attorneys and tech experts in the industry. Bill has been an advisor to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) Bureau of Marijuana Regulation Working Group.

So when the time comes to start planning and implementing to secure your cannabis business—developing your security measures and procedures—contact Bill Cousins at WJ Cousins and Associates. They will ensure your facility is compliant and secure.