Cover Story-Part 2

The Security Status of The Legalized Marijuana Trade
By William Peppard

The legal cannabis industry is in its beginning stages in the United States, with many states developing legitimate programs in the last several years. Legal marijuana is America’s fastest-growing industry. According to market sector research, cannabis revenue is expected to exceed $22 billion by 2020, nearly double that of professional sport leagues. However, there is a potential danger surrounding the new legal pot industry, which can be an issue for communities and first responders.

Several common factors in this new business have been exposed that have led to losses ranging from millions of dollars in profits to the violent incidents due to the high-profile criminal targets that cannabis operations may pose. For those who either work in the marijuana trade and for local first responders, it is important that all sides know how to react.

Security concerns are common in an industry like marijuana that’s transitioning from the black market to the legal market. The threats to marijuana businesses are very real. One issue is despite being legal either for recreational or medicinal use across many parts of the country, marijuana is still a Schedule I drug and technically illegal at the federal level. However, in 2013, the federal administration under President Barack Obama issued the Cole Memorandum. This memo directed federal law enforcement to authorize businesses that are legal under state laws to function.

However, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent policy shift on the Cole Memo could further restrict the ability of cannabis companies to obtain banking services, leaving businesses with an excessive amount of cash on hand. A 2016 NY Times article on the security side of this market shows that the marijuana industry can be very profitable for criminal enterprise. For example, according to the article’s research, a pound of marijuana worth $2,000 in Colorado can be sold for $4,000 or $6,000 across state lines. Plus, retail and logistical establishments are considered ‘soft targets’ and unlike cash, marijuana is untraceable, easily sold on social media and the internet to locations across the country.

Because of the issues surrounding marijuana businesses and lack of access to banking, industry participants often use cash to pay expenses, in contrast to other businesses that would just charge a card or mail a check for things like taxes and rent. This creates a need to move large amounts of cash safely, bringing in the need for armored vehicles and professional cash transport teams. Beyond cash, marijuana businesses also require a secure and safe method to transport valuable inventory.

Additionally, another issue is also present in the industry. Robberies involving marijuana locations may make headlines, but the gravest security threat for cannabis businesses isn’t associated with masked unknown hold-up crews but with insider theft. In fact, approximately 90% of financial and product loss in the marijuana industry can be attributed to employee theft, according to security experts in the cannabis field. Employee theft is rampant in most industries, but is particularly tough for cannabis operations. The reason for this is that they often deal with large amounts of cash and a product that is easy to appropriate.

Along with these threats and that many local government rules now require marijuana companies to implement security measures, it has given rise to a thriving industry focused on helping cannabis businesses protect their assets and employees. Those services include uniformed guards for marijuana dispensaries and grow houses, armored transportation for inventory and cash, and security camera systems that can be placed in grow warehouses and dispensaries. As with nearly every sector of the marijuana trade, those in the security industry anticipate more development in the future.

Law enforcement needs to be aware of the security concerns of the marijuana trade, because ultimately it will be law enforcement’s responsibility to maintain the safety and security in the community and fight crime associated with all persons and industries. Knowledge and training are paramount.

Next, we’ll have a look at what these new laws mean for prospective law enforcement candidates with past marijuana usage, and what these means for the hiring standards.