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Seed to Sale Surveillance – The True Role of Cannabis Security Companies  

cannabis surveillance
Written by Alexandra Hicks

The legal cannabis market in America saw a year-over-year revenue increase of 40% from 2020 to 2021, hitting $25 billion in annual sales by the end of last year. Some experts predict the US industry will reach roughly $46 billion in 2025. But when we’re talking about cannabis money as a whole, it’s not just direct-to-consumer sales that we’re referring to. Cultivators, lab owners, equipment manufacturers, and so many ancillary companies are riding the green wave. With so much money on the line, it’s no surprise that high-tech camera systems are a staple in every successful canna-business. But it’s not just a luxury there to help protect your assets, video surveillance is required by state law.  

Cannabis is a multi-billion dollar industry, but ancillary services like surveillance are making a killing in this sector as well. For more articles like this one, and exclusive deals on legal THC products, make sure to subscribe to The THC Weekly Newsletter. Also save big on Delta 8Delta 9 THCDelta-10 THCTHCOTHCVTHCP & HHC products by checking out our “Best-of” lists!

Cannabis surveillance systems – an overview  

Anyone interested in learning about the security sector should look no further than the trade-show floor at MJBizCon. Numerous security exhibitors were there to share their knowledge, equipment, technology, and basic protocols with those of us who were eager to gain more knowledge. I spoke to a few people from different companies and learned quite a bit regarding what they do and how it all works.  

Let’s start with pricing, since superior quality surveillance cameras will be a crucial part of any cannabis business plan. Naturally, average pricing will vary based on the type of business in question. For example, in dispensaries, the typical setup is around 16 to 32 cameras, depending on square footage, with remote access features, battery backup, and different methods for saving data.  

According to Security Grade Protective, a system like that runs about $10,000 for the initial installation. For a larger scale cultivation center, you’re looking at up to $300,000, although the average figure is around half that. You may also incur additional fees for upgraded services and features which can include but are not limited to: IP cameras, high end megapixel cameras, rapid response monitoring, armed or unarmed guard services, real-time notification of break-ins, off-site storage, and investigative background checks.  

For monitoring and maintenance, Security Grade Protective charges $35 per camera per month for dispensaries. Large cultivation centers are charged less per camera, usually some type of bulk rate since they need so many units. “Data and internet are not free and everyone is charging for that data package right now,” says David Beckett, vice president at SGP. “We explain to our customers to imagine using their cell phone to run 150 YouTube videos all day, every day. Imagine what your data bill is going to be. Then they kind of have an understanding of why the data is not free,” he added.

The cannabis industry has a unique need for surveillance. Beyond the fact that it’s a requirement for state licensing, they are mostly prohibited from working with banks so these businesses that sell a fairly expensive commodity at high volumes, are forced to deal entirely in cash… and there’s a lot of it, so safety is essential. Security Grade Protective Services averages around 50 installations at dispensaries and cultivation centers per year, and they’re just one of many companies competing in this niche.  

Who needs cameras and where?  

Cannabis is tracked from seed to sale, so cameras need to be installed and fully operational in cultivation and processing centers as well as dispensaries/retail stores. For dispensaries, most states require business applicants to provide detailed security plans that will detect and prevent theft, diversion, trespassing, and any other activities that lead to loss of currency, products, or assets.  

As such, video surveillance cameras need to be installed at all points of entry, lobbies and waiting areas, elevators and hallways, point-of-sale areas, storage areas, employee break rooms, offices, around the outside perimeter of the building, and sometimes even in the parking lot. Basically, all areas except the bathrooms need to be monitored.  

Recording of grow ops and manufacturing centers is also required by law. Cameras are assigned to certain plants and need to be strategically placed throughout the area to keep track of growth and processing. With dispensaries, the regulations are pretty clear cut, but surveilling a grow area or extraction facility can be incredibly challenging because they need to work with whatever physical layout they have as well as stay abreast of the frequently changing regulations regarding security and seed-to-sale tracking. In dispensaries it’s easy, just put the cameras everywhere.    

Piggybacking off the last point, different states can also have different rules when it comes to this particular topic. Some states have pretty basic requirements while others can add many additional stipulations such as alarm systems, simultaneous on-site and/or cloud-based recording, a minimum number of security guards on site, and so forth. 

Staying compliant  

If you’re trying to establish a legitimate canna-business, compliance is key. The problem is that compliance in cannabis is much more confusing than other industries, mainly because there is a huge disconnect between federal and state regulations, and at the state level, statutes are forever changing.  

State laws governing cannabis surveillance are no exception – they’re just as perplexing and all-over-the-place as nearly every other aspect of this industry. For example, the state of California requires a camera resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p) pixels or better and a minimum of 15 frames per second. Additionally, cameras need to be recording 24/7 with no interruptions (regardless of lighting and weather conditions) and they must be Internet Protocol (IP) compatible.  

In Illinois, cannabis security requirements include the recording every single stage of the “seed to store” operation including the plant’s growth, trimming, harvesting, processing or extraction if applicable, packaging, and transportation. Illinois also requires 24/7 surveillance of dispensaries. Additionally, each cultivation facility, processing plant, and retail store must ensure the availability of a video printer capable of immediately producing a clear still photo from any of the security cameras.  

Video retention time is also a matter of concern. Using the golden state as an example again, cannabis business owners in California must store footage for a minimum of 90 days, but in other states that could be up to one full year. Now consider that with a 24-hour per day filming requirement, a total of roughly 13 GB per day… that’s a lot of data to store! And storing data is not cheap, so finding flexible and affordable options to be able to work with these laws is an absolute must.  

For insurance coverage

Insurance is a necessary evil for any business owner, but it’s not always easy to obtain when your business is cannabis. Insurers have claimed that cannabis companies are at higher risk for theft and organized crime because they keep piles of cash and pot on hand. Some states already require weed businesses to carry insurance (California and Massachusetts) and experts believe that if the practice was more widespread, insurance companies could collect billions in premiums off cannabis. Despite high earning potentials, most insurers are still not willing to chance it.  

According to Luke Ewing from Cannabis Compliance Company Simplifya, “Insurers like risk when you bear it. They like when they can quantify the odds of having to pay you money, so that they can price their coverage accordingly. But when the risk is on them, it’s another story.” 

“The legal uncertainty, while a problem for anyone dealing with the cannabis industry, is especially concerning for insurers because it hits at the heart of what they do,” Ewing added. “Insurance is priced according to the risk it covers, but with cannabis law, the rules, and consequently the liability risks, change literally every day.” 

Insurance will cover your butt if there is a fire, any type of damage to your store, natural disaster, theft, vandalism and destruction, and many other issues that could completely ruin a person financially. Plus, with successful dispensaries there will be a high level of foot traffic and you’ll want to protect yourself from liability claims. Of the few companies that actually are willing to provide coverage to the cannabis industry, a general requirement is that the business have a comprehensive security plan in place, and that always includes some type of video surveillance.  

Final thoughts on cannabis industry surveillance

As you can see, the world of cannabis industry surveillance is much more convoluted than simply choosing to install a system because you want a higher level of safety. Although it’s definitely a good idea to have some type of security in place, because of current laws, you’ll need to buy one whether you want to or not. When adding expensive high-tech surveillance cameras to a business, compliance is probably the last thing on most people’s minds, but when you’re working with marijuana, it’s everything.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advice, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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1 Comment

  • I know, this is a comprehensive look at cannabis security for business. Links to compliance regulations included. From the retail stage and cultivation, to manufacturing and transportation, every stage of the cannabis operation must be rigorously.

About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.