Cannabis Security at a Turning Point

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[Note:  A version of this article originally appeared in 8th Revolution’s Monthly Playbook – subscribe here]

By: Marc Brandl

Recently, on a trip to a local cannabis dispensary I’m first greeted by two security guards; one is armed with a Kevlar vest over his uniform. Cameras are ubiquitous from the moment I step onto the property. Numerous other security measures and protocols, often unseen by the customer are also in place.  As I leave the dispensary, an armored car with more armed guards pulls up to haul away tens of thousands of dollars of cash, a necessity since credit card companies and other electronic payment services cannot work with federally illegal cannabis businesses. And all of this happens in a safe, low-crime neighborhood three blocks from a police station.

Security has always been top-of-mind for cannabis businesses going back to the early medical cannabis dispensaries in California when calling the police simply wasn’t an option. Today, cannabis retailers face a host of security issues to run their business day-in and day-out while keeping their employees, customers, and merchandise safe.

We saw the need for security systems most dramatically in November, when at least eight cannabis operations in the Bay Area were looted and robbed by armed gangs. Oakland cannabis operators alone estimated that $5 million in product was stolen and millions more worth of damage occured. According to police reports, in November, at least 175 shots were fired in the 25 burglaries targeting cannabis businesses in the Bay Area.

Setting up Security for your Cannabis Business  

If you don’t have experience with security, setting up a system can be daunting and expensive.  With the right guidance, you can implement a cost effective and compliant system customized for your needs.

Your first question might be cost but there is no magic number.  The price of a security system varies widely based on the security needs, regulations, and the physical plant of your facility.  Set up for dispensaries, cultivation, and manufacturing each present their own challenges and price tag.  The annual costs of private guards, armored cars, monitoring and maintaining security vigilance and other measures, can take up a sizable portion of your budget.

Another factor to consider is compliance. States and municipalities can require a variety of security measures, monitoring, and reporting to be in place, sometimes to multiple agencies. In the state of Illinois, for instance, the Illinois State Police and the Departments of Agriculture, Public Health, and Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) are all involved in security compliance.

Tips from a Cannabis Security Professional

I recently talked with Trei McMullen of SYOTOS Security about cannabis security.  Trei and SYOTOS has handled security and security set up at dozens of cannabis operations in multiple states.

Trei is a military vet who spent almost six years total in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He retired from the United States Army (7th Special Forces Group), with Ulcerative Colitis. The cannabis plant is much more than a plant to Trei, it’s a possible cure. “I want to dedicate my time back stateside protecting the industry creating a cure.” Trei is looking to speak with seasoned cannabis business owners and hear their concerns and what they would like to see change. Trei mentioned, “I don’t want to act like I know it all, I want to hear from the community and take their concerns and make a prescription.”

Trei has an Associates in Intelligence Operations, Bachelors in Intelligence Studies with a focus on Counterintelligence, received a Master’s in Emergency Management and Homeland Security and is currently completing his PhD program in Global Security.   His PhD dissertation is, unsurprisingly, focused on cannabis.

Q: Trei, what’s the number one mistake or misconception cannabis operators have about security?

A: That a video camera system actually satisfies the need for security. After a security situation arises, the first thing many people tell me is, ‘the cameras didn’t deter anything!’.  It’s not that the cameras didn’t deter anything but who has been monitoring those cameras?  You must have a human aspect to all aspects of security.

Security is a holistic approach meaning one attribute (guards, cameras, alarms) is just as relevant as the other. A holistic approach to security seeks to integrate all the elements designed to safeguard cannabis operators, considering them as a complex and interconnected system.

Q: Three key things to keep in mind setting up security for a retail cannabis operation:

A: There is no blanket security solution that fits every organization. Each facility comes with its own challenges and unique security issues.

You will want to seek out a Chief Security Officer. We offer a service where you have a security professional help you plan for worse case scenarios, design policies, procedures, and post orders. Examples include floor plans, threat/vulnerability assessments and active shooter procedures.  Once the initial set up is in place this turns into a retainer to ensure compliance and quality control.

Location! Location! Location! I know it can add cost to the initial investment but, please, don’t turn a blind eye to current crime rates and active threats when scouting a location for your business.  Out of all your expenses don’t skimp on the one that protects your prize possession!

Q: Cultivation and manufacturing facilities aren’t open to the public – how does that change how you think about security?

A: These types of facilities face unique security challenges: compliance, diversion of product to the black market, large-scale planned attacks, employee theft and access, and code violations. 

Operators need to understand security for cannabis businesses begins with the design of the facility itself.  Security professionals should be working in tandem with architecture firms through the design phase to best ensure that unauthorized personnel can’t access restricted areas.


The cannabis industry continues to change and grow, as do the security challenges cannabis business owners face. Since most security is outsourced to security companies, it’s critically important to choose a partner and security solution that keeps your people, your customers and your property safe.

For a free 30-minute consultation with SYOTOS, contact Sarah Falvo  [email protected] – use ‘cannabis security’ in the subject line.

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