Finding a ‘Pot’ of Gold in Marijuana Dispensary Security

Denver-based integrator Security Grade Protective Services earns between $10K and $300K per installation securing cannabis dispensaries and cultivation facilities.

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Business is certainly buzzing at Security Grade Protective Services in Denver these days as company principals Derek Porter and David Beckett continue to be high on the future for its niche market focused on securing cannabis dispensaries and cultivation facilities with electronic security. And boy, what a market.

To date, two-year-old Security Grade Protective Services has performed installations in about 100 dispensaries and cultivation centers. The cannabis industry is unique because many banks refuse to finance these endeavors, forcing the proprietors to deal strictly in cash with customers and vendors. It means Security Grade is earning solid “green” for protecting the “green” with its fully integrated CCTV video surveillance systems, which include off-site storage backup tied into real-time notification intrusion and access control systems.

The installations themselves range from an average $10,000 for a 16-camera job up to $300,000 for larger scale systems in cultivation centers. For remote data recording and backup, the company earns a healthy $35 per camera, leaning heavily on two key partners—IC Realtime for the high-end megapixel cameras and Rapid Response Monitoring as its central station facility. The niche has even led to adding armed and unarmed guard services as well as investigative and background check services to its portfolio, which today is nationwide.

From Consultants to Installers

Derek Porter, CEO of Security Grade, and David Beckett, vice president, first started the company in December 2012 purely as a consulting business. The idea was to advise the newly legalized cannabis industry in Colorado on security matters.

“In December of 2012, we got our first cannabis client,” recalls Beckett, who started out doing home automation installations for ADT. “It was for a simple risk and vulnerability assessment for a client in Boulder, Colo. It took just a few days, and I was very much initially alien to the whole cannabis industry. Once we started doing a lot more homework and research, we realized the potential there and the immense need for security. Through time, we started offering more services within that niche and it has really helped to catapult the business.”

Photos: What Does Marijuana Dispensary Security Look Like?

To date, Security Grade has done about 100 cannabis-related installations, with about half in dispensaries and half in cultivation centers.

“There are definitely more dispensaries than cultivation centers out there,” says Beckett, noting that some states require five shops for every one cultivation center. In Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, Beckett says there are more licensed dispensaries than there are Starbucks.

“So you kind of get an idea of the mass amount of possible stores,” he notes.

In dispensaries, the typical installation is between 16 and 32 cameras, depending on how many rooms, integrated with access control and intrusion with a four-hour battery backup. Security Grade Protective gets about $10,000 on average for those systems. These facilities tend to be about 1,300 square feet.

There are multiple areas that need to be monitored, including the front counter, the doors, the cut-up areas where the pot is prepared and packaged, and the safe. Remember that many banks will not extend credit to cannabis industry so it is a cash business.

“Every facility has a safe. Normally there are two safes—one full of product and one full of cash. Cut-up areas have a higher camera count. But you’re normally looking at least at two to three cameras per room. So depending on the size of the rooms and location it starts to get higher than that,” says Beckett. Typically facilities have offsite video backup of the DVR to protect against a criminal stealing the onsite DVR.

“You have to pick the right provider,” he adds. “IC Realtime is one of the great partners that we worked with.”

Massive Cultivation Center Security Gets Elaborate

The extent of the security can be characterized by a project Security Grade is currently working on at a large cultivation center and marijuana-infused product (MIP) lab in East St. Louis, Ill. That facility is going to be providing the cannabis for the entire southern part of the state, according to Beckett. A MIP is where extractions are done to create the oils and shatters (concentrates) for the industry. Individual seedlings have RFID tags placed on them to track the plant from infancy to maturity. The system tracks how tall it grows and how many buds it produces from beginning to end.

While cameras are not honed in on individual plants themselves, Security Grade is working closely with IC Realtime to bring some new ideas to the industry to help regulate rooms and enhance the security layers, he says.

The large Illinois facility is well over 100,000 square feet with 151 cameras. Though not revealed specifically on this project, the cost to secure a facility like this can run as high as $300,000 for the initial installation, according to Beckett.

“We designed this whole camera layout to cover every aspect,” says Beckett. “There’s really no blind spot. We have motorized PTZs on the outside that detect motion. As soon as you get on the property the camera is actually following you without actually any human interaction. You get inside and a front image is taken using a height-strip camera that’s tells how tall you are for the authorities. There is also facial recognition and a retinal scan. You’re getting covered from all angles.”

And that is just to get in. Major cultivation centers like this are selling lots of marijuana to individual dispensaries, which have to pay in cash. So obviously, cameras are aimed at both the cash safe and the product safe.