Security is of course vital in a cannabis operation; for employee comfort and safety, to protect highly valuable products, to remain compliant, and to prevent diversion.

But I’ve been in too many facilities where security is overbearing and whether as a customer or an employee, you feel watched. It feels like you’re in a place you’re not supposed to be or you’re doing something that’s illegal. 

To make it worse, security has often been forced into a facility design rather than proactively planned into it, creating operational bottlenecks, disrupting flow and costing the company lost productivity and revenue.  So as to avoid these feelings and to eliminate potential lost revenue, I’ve collaborated with Tony Gallo and our friends at Sapphire Risk to offer these tips on how to maximize security without compromising your operational flow. 

1. Consider your operational flow first and design your security system around that. 

This enables you to proactively consider areas and activities of higher risk and to establish procedures and systems to minimize this risk. This could mean adding extra cameras in these high risk areas or adding access controls to minimize movement between certain areas. It’s best to involve your security consultant at this stage, since they’ve viewed hundreds of floor plans through this exact lens and have a trained eye for things that may not be on radar for other subject matter experts.

2. Force employee & customer flow via facility design. 

If you can design your facility to have all employees or customers enter through one door and progress through your facility in the way that you choose, your security team can identify anomalies more easily and pay closer attention to someone breaking flow. For example, if all of your retail customers enter through one door, complete their transaction and exit out another door, flow is established so that anyone attempting to exit through the entrance will immediately alert security that something is not right, prompting action. While more difficult to do in a production environment, you can design the operation so that all employees enter the production area through one door and exit through a different door, giving extra security attention to the exit door where it’s possible diverted product may be leaving. This is just one way to design an operation to make it easier for the security team to monitor areas of higher risk without compromising flow. 

3. Color code employee uniforms by department. 

In most production facilities, employees are siloed by department and often separated by task. For example, you may have employees who are designated to the mother room whereas others are specifically flower room employees. You may have generalized cultivators, but then have a designated post-harvest team which is separate from the trim team which again is separate from the packaging team. We suggest giving all of your separate departments a different color uniform to wear. This makes life a lot easier for your security team monitoring your cameras, whether live or after an event has occurred. If someone on the red team is in the area of the blue team, it’s easy to spot an anomaly. While there will always be some interaction between teams, it can help the security team more easily identify situations where an employee is where they don’t belong, raising alarms for potential diversion or threat.

4. Dedicate specific areas to specific activities and place dedicated cameras overhead to monitor these activities. 

The goal we’re trying to accomplish is to maximally monitor potential mistakes or opportunities for diversion. For example, in retail, a dedicated camera should be over each POS station. You can take it a step further and draw a box on the counter where all product handling and cash handling takes place so that the camera can get everything within its view. As another example, in production, having a dedicated camera over each trimming station that takes place in a dedicated area, will help eliminate the possibility of diversion, accidental or otherwise, when trimming staff frequently moves product from a storage area, to their hands, into a finished area. In any facility, there are areas and activities with higher risk of threat of diversion, and by forcing these activities into certain areas, we can monitor them more closely and prevent leakage and diversion to the best of our ability. 

5. Consider investing in keyless access control

We’re a huge fan of adding access controls to most doors in a facility. In retail, this means any door that the public should not need to access, and in production, this means nearly every door. This helps us monitor who is where at what time, and likely will only ever be looked at in the event of a security investigation into diversion.

But current technology is limiting. Right now most facilities use pin codes or NFC keycards for swipe access – and that’s great until, picture this:

Team Member A needs to push a cart through a keyed entry doorway to Room X. If they’re alone, at best they waste time and add extra motions to maneuver themselves and the cart through. My brain instantly wants to know how many times they’re going to do this per day, since that time and extra motion adds up. At worst, Team Member B is close enough to see their struggle, and generously comes to open the door for them with their own key card, allowing Team Member A to go through. But now who is on the security record as being in Room X?

Ideally, an LE-Bluetooth interface would “scan” employees in through these access controls so that the employees never have to break flow. With a tag that communicates to the controlled-access for them, they can move freely between doors, carry product and even hold doors open for other employees where allowed, and every movement will still be tracked. This takes a lot of planning and design. However, you’ll make your employee’s lives much easier if they don’t have to constantly reach for their keycard to swipe into every door they enter and exit, especially when they are pushing carts, moving plants, or carrying anything between these areas. 

This point wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the conversation happening around cell phones. Currently, using reliable bluetooth technology for access means allowing workers to have their cell phones with them inside the facility. Our integrator colleagues have tested out Bluetooth beacon devices and while doable, it hasn’t proven very reliable. (opportunity for someone to get it right, please!)  Regardless of where you stand on cell phones in facilities, it would be ideal to have Bluetooth access that isn’t tied to a cell phone so that as more discussion about this takes place, people can make their own decisions about whether cell phones belong in their buildings or not without it having automatic ramifications on employee access and security. This is a topic that we’ll inevitably hear more and more about as time goes on, so we’ll move on from it for now.  

6. Never allow employees to access 100% of your security cameras. 

All but the most complex (and costly) security systems will have a couple of minor blindspots throughout your facility. Employees who believe they know where these blindspots are may try to take advantage of them, so eliminate this thought by making sure employees don’t have access to every camera. This creates enough doubt in their mind to prevent diversion in most cases. They may believe they’ve spotted a blindspot in the cameras they have access to, but it’s highly likely this blindspot doesn’t exist in the cameras they don’t have access to. Lastly, only allow security personnel and executives into the security monitoring area. This further limits any employee’s ability to identify potential blindspots or weak points in a security system. 

Designing your security system and your security operation is far more effective if you’ve designed your operational flow first. Only then can you design your facility around both of these components. Considering both operational flow and security together allows your operation to proactively eliminate bottlenecks that could hinder your revenue and profitability. Ultimately, with these tips we’re trying to maximize operational flow, maximize efficiency, minimize leakage and diversion and retain more profit for the company. 

Brian Staffa is a seasoned Executive Cannabis Operator specializing in solving for operational underperformance, maximizing profitability, and foundational planning & structuring. Connect about your project below.

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