If you enter the cannabis industry as a grower or dispensary owner, the dream is to build a large and loyal customer base and to make a lot of money. Because of cannabis legislation, that dream is tied up in a nightmare. In 2013, two men and a woman were arrested for kidnapping and torturing a dispensary owner in a gruesome attempt to find out where he stashed his cash; the victim was beaten, kidnapped, and castrated. In 2016, 24-year-old security officer and former marine, Travis Mason, was fatally shot while guarding a dispensary. These incidents are anomalies, but that doesn’t make them any less tragic or terrifying, and it doesn’t let the federal government off the hook.
Cannabis is a dangerous industry, but the only “reefer madness” behind this danger is the ridiculous way the substance has been legislated. Because cannabis is a Schedule I substance, it is federally illegal, and that makes it a liability for banks that work with plant-touching cannabusinesses. Money transfer from these businesses to and from banks could be considered money laundering, and that isn’t a risk most banks are willing to take. Consequently, these businesses are forced to deal with cash only.
The Target on Dispensaries' Back
But a building full of cash and cannabis? Well, that’s a beautifully shining target for a burglar. It’s no secret that dispensary owners and growers are worried. Whereas most entrepreneurs are worried about a lack of success, businesses that deal directly with cannabis worry about the threat their public success can create. The better one of these businesses does, the more lucrative a spot for armed robbery it becomes. One of the greatest ironies of this banking and money brouhaha is that these cannabis operations are still required to pay taxes, but can’t do it in a way that makes any kind of safety sense. Without a bank account, cannabis professionals can’t write checks or use credit cards—they have to literally transport bags of cash from one location to another.
The law is the reason that entering the cannabis industry comes with more than just the risk of a tainted reputation. Theft is a big deal for any business, but when it comes to cannabis, the outcomes can be insurmountable. Businesses working with commodities that aren’t federally illegal have insurance options that aren’t available to most “plant-touching” cannabusinesses. The legal liability, social stigma, and nascence of the industry spook most major carriers, and policies that do exist come with high premiums and frustrating exemptions due to cannabis’ federal designation as contraband.
What's The Solution?
Given that the process of transportation is when product and cash are most vulnerable to theft and that insurance policies either don’t exist or are too expensive to enroll in, investing in secure transportation could be the difference between losing everything and staying in business. A surprising but logical demographic to capitalize on cannabis are former law enforcement and military personnel. If there is anything these folks know, it’s how to comply with the law and how to keep the most precious commodities secure. Security businesses are incredibly important ancillary businesses to emerge as the cash-only, schedule I substance-dealing industry faces complicated and dangerous threats to its existence.
Former Law Enforcement Steps Up To The Plate
Blue Line Protection Group is an armored courier service that provides professional compliance, armed protection, and secure transportation services to businesses, individuals, and government organizations. Their team is primarily made up of ex-military and law enforcement personnel. Although their mission statement and service descriptions don’t specify cannabis, their professional affiliations include the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Marijuana Business Association, and the Marijuana Industry Group.
Blue Line Protection Group’s transportation service includes an armored vehicle escorted by an armed, trained, and licensed security operator with military or law enforcement experience. They will also transport currency from certain banks directly to the Federal Reserve. MPS Security, a branch of National Business Investigations, is a security firm providing services for physical and asset security. In addition to a swath of other security services, MPS provides transportation solutions for medical marijuana and recreational dispensaries and grow facilities located in Colorado, Maryland, and Illinois. MPS’s transportation services include covert and unmarked or armored vehicles and trained security personnel. As demonstrated by its name, CannaGuard Security is a firm devoted to serving the regulated medical and recreational cannabis industry across the country. CannaGuard has been providing security services to California, Oregon, and Washington since 2013, but it added on CannaGuard Transport in November 2016, a cash and product transportation service. CannaGuard provides asset tracking and armored transport escorted by two armed security personnel with military and law enforcement experience. CannaGuard Transport also offers its clients secure product storage and insurance—assets in the company’s possession (whether on the road or in storage) are fully insured. Currently, CannaGuard Transport only operates in Oregon.
Not Available in All States
Unfortunately, not all states with legal cannabis authorize these types of services since they are considered “third-party” delivery operations. Most states that allow the delivery of cannabis at all require that such a service be a branch of the dispensary business. Hiring an outside service is prohibited, leaving all transportation security measures up to dispensary owners and employees, an unfortunate and unfair liability.
If hiring a security transportation service isn’t a possibility, here are some basic maneuvers businesses can make when moving product or cash:
First, create multiple barriers between a potential robber and the assets: place cash and product in safes and then place those safes somewhere discreet and secure in the vehicle. Enroll in an armed robbery awareness program. Lots of these programs exist and are essential for mental preparedness. These classes teach their students to detect suspicious behavior and to respond to the worst-case scenario in a way conducive to the best possible outcome. Avoid the potential of losing everything in one horrible exchange by carrying product and cash separately. Before parking, visually confirm that the person receiving the assets is there. Finally, don’t travel alone. Two sets of eyes and ears are better than one.