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.