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From Seed to Sale: Elevating your Cannabis Operation with Surveillance

 Originally published on Security Technology

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The metrics of the cannabis market are undeniably attractive as a growth industry for those looking to get into a new and lucrative market. With recreational marijuana legalized in nearly 20 U.S. states and medicinal marijuana permitted in 36 U.S. states, the cannabis industry continues to be one of the fastest-growing verticals in the United States.

Despite the opportunities, there are some growing pains to navigate, mostly in the form of strict regulations that vary widely by state, county, and municipality. Regardless of business type—dispensary, processing, or grow operation—most of these regulations dictate electronic and physical security requirements, particularly around video surveillance. Modern video platforms can help cannabis businesses leverage their video management system (VMS) as a part of their overall open platform security plan.

Licensing requires a security plan

Like any business operation, cannabis requires certain licenses, approvals, and audits before you can open your doors. While every U.S. state’s regulations and security requirements differ, almost all of them require some form of electronic alarm and surveillance system and audit trails, be it paper or electronic, that must be archived.

These security system plans are heavily weighted as part of the licensing application process and must include a plan on file describing the overall system architecture, including alarm, video, and in some cases access control that allows the integration of other solutions. In addition, cannabis retailers also need an audit trail working in conjunction with seed-to-sale compliance software, which ensures cannabis operations are conformant with regulatory requirements.

Video surveillance required

While rules differ state-to-state, nearly all fully legalized states require video surveillance 24/7 throughout the entire facility. An average dispensary could have 25 to 40 cameras—a large-scale grow operation could have dozens to more than 100 cameras—to ensure perimeter protection and no “dead zones,” where a camera’s field of view is obstructed. All hard and soft potential physical security threats (customers, employees, delivery people, packages) entering the premise must be tracked using the video system, along with any human or product movement that occurs within the facility. Video is required to be archived for anywhere from 45 to even 120 days.

The benefits of a robust VMS to help manage these requirements go beyond preventing possible fines. For example, if a grow operation moves plants from one end of the facility to another, but doesn’t have video footage of the move, it could be a red flag for auditors, who require the entire facility, its contents and its people to be recorded at all times. The benefits of a robust VMS to help manage these requirements go beyond preventing possible fines.

While regulations can range, most require video to be stored for 90 days, so video storage is an essential piece of the solution. A robust VMS system that allows for fast forensic searching can aid auditors in searching for and finding any anomalies in the cannabis facility operations, including discrepancies in size or weight.

Seed-to-Sale Tracking

Seed-to-sale is the process of tagging each and every cannabis plant with a barcode or radio-frequency identification (RFID) that allows the tracking of a plant from a grow operation (seed) to cultivation, processing, and final sale. For cannabis customers, anything they buy is required by state or local regulators to have a batch number, complete with the lot and date—allowing them to find the birth, lifecycle, and death of the product. This ensures against potential internal theft or product tampering.

Using a video system with a seed-to-sale tracking integration can drastically reduce the burden of compliance and mandatory data tracking on grow operators and dispensaries. Cameras record an image of a plant’s barcode as it passes by on its way to processing. The image is scanned and tracked with a barcode reader. While this information is also captured in the seed-to-sale software, video images provide a valuable individual record of each of these transactions that can be easily retrieved when needed for a compliance audit or investigation into employee theft.

Video Analytics Optimizes Dispensary Security

Cannabis retail dispensaries can use video analytics to improve operations by using people counting to speed up queue lines and assist management in ensuring the facility is properly staffed. Additionally, integrations with point of sale (POS) and Seed to Sell (STS) systems assist dispensaries with proper reporting software.

For example, if a customer buys several products, those will be tracked in the POS/STS software and the facility can use their surveillance system that captured the metadata to ensure compliance, complete with an event-stamped audit trail.

Cannabis Facilities Require Access to Remote Video, Investigations

Remote access to systems is in high demand across all sectors of the cannabis space. Even when they are not physically on site, cannabis operators can have instant visibility into their facilities using the surveillance system.

With today’s technology, they can have access to video from individual sites in a variety of ways—a local client workstation onsite at the retail facility or in the company’s main headquarters, or from anywhere via a mobile device. They will be able to see if someone has accessed the site after-hours, or if there’s an incident that triggers an event in the alarm, access control or surveillance system. This gives operators the ability to decide whether to engage internal or external resources to deal with the issue.

Additionally, where facility size and location are factors, having access to any security or surveillance system, regardless of their location, will assist cannabis operators in having a finger on the pulse of their operations for other operational issues that can be seen or dealt with using the video system.

Cash Management

Cannabis businesses typically also have large amounts of cash onsite, increasing the need for a comprehensive security system and video surveillance solution. Dispensaries must constantly capture POS register information and the entire point of purchase scene, including the buyer, to ensure each transaction has a video archive attached to the transaction.

Additionally, the VMS, coupled with edge, internal, or third-party analytics can notify local or remote personnel of any suspicious behavior, and detect weapons and other objects that might indicate a potential threat. They can also monitor and record the movement of all cash and product through the entire facility.

Navigating the strict security regulations imposed on cannabis businesses requires a well thought out plan and a flexible solution that can provide enterprise-level surveillance features and scalability. No matter what U.S. state the operation is located, a security system with the necessary capacity to store video footage and offers bandwidth friendly remote monitoring capabilities is a must.

Brad Wareham has been in the electronic security discipline for more than 37 years and is based in Colorado while covering the North American market. He has touched every aspect of the space from service, installation, project management, and ownership, and worked with some of the most progressive, forward thinking integration companies in project management and sales positions. Wareham joined Salient Systems in March of 2019, where he engages VAR’s, and end users in the corrections, cannabis, and logistics verticals.