Running a cash-only business is risky. And the key to mitigating that risk, according to Derek Porter, is staff-wide training.
“Strictly enforced security regiments with the overall staff: That’s what’s going to save lives and deter robberies,” said Porter, CEO of Security Grade Protective Services. “Having an armed guard does not necessarily do that. In fact, it can invite a confrontation.”
The death of security guard Travis Mason last month during an attempted robbery at a Colorado dispensary is a sobering reminder of the security issues facing small businesses in the nascent cannabis industry.
It’s also a reminder that “that even an armed, highly trained individual is still vulnerable,” Porter said.
Although access to banks is slowly increasing, many dispensaries remain locked out of basic banking services. Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, estimates that about half of the organization’s membership—which includes between 200 and 300 dispensaries—operates entirely in cash. She added that number is difficult to track, given that “businesses that do have bank accounts don’t necessarily want to draw attention to that fact.”
Operating solely in cash poses inherent risks that Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, believes are heightened by increased media attention.
“The largest issue is the increased susceptibility to crime, such as robberies,” he said. “Due to the relentless onslaught of media coverage that continually addresses the cash issue, these businesses may become targets for criminal activities.
“Businesses have become extremely vigilant in ensuring their employees and capital are safe,” he added.
New models for security
To accomplish that goal, Porter’s Denver-based firm is beginning to transition away from the static security model, which relies on posting a security guard on-site, and is moving toward a mobile and surveillance-based approach. Security Grade provides armed security personnel who patrol and check on facilities at random times throughout the day. Meanwhile, surveillance operators monitor security cameras from a remote location. This dual approach is statistically more effective, Porter said.
Employing a full-time security guard is still a valid option, but Porter recommends verifying that any potential officer has experience—preferably, several years of experience—with a trustworthy firm.
“Do not use cookie-cutter security companies,” Porter said. “I’m talking your typical rent-a-cop style where the billable hours are very low and that individual is barely making minimum wage. We do not recommend that at all.”
From his perspective, though, the best security systems are those that rely more on highly trained staff than armed guards to prevent and deter crime. Duties often assigned to a guard, such as checking customers’ IDs, should be delegated to budtenders instead. Lobbies should be secured so that customers cannot access off-limits areas where cannabis is stored.
“Having an armed guard is not the catch-all, be-all service,” he said. “If you’re going to have a security element there, then the budtenders and the management staff need to be trained in security tactics, period. Everyone there should be trained and not rely on just one individual—because that one individual, as we’ve seen, can be seriously hurt or even killed.”
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