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Dispensary Security: What You Need to Know

Given recent events in Texas, Washington, California, Colorado and Arizona, the level of threat and/or risk has grown exponentially over the last couple of years. Dispensaries and grow facilities are being robbed at alarming rates, and sometimes, violently. (In Colorado 16.8% of dispensaries were robbed in 2009). Colorado has laws and a demographic similar to Arizona. Theoretically, if Arizona applied Colorado’s statistics, that would mean nearly 16 out of 126 dispensaries in Arizona will be robbed. We are estimating this number to be closer to 25 or 30 in the first year to eighteen months. We are basing this estimate on crimes that have already been committed at grow facilities and communal facilities. Most of these crimes are not making the news. We are learning about these crimes from our extensive law enforcement contacts.

In Arizona we have the added issue of the Mexican drug cartels. They have shown they have no issues crossing the border to commit violent crimes. There are many instances in Arizona where suspected cartel members have been arrested and/or observed “escorting” marijuana with automatic weapons through our deserts.

What does this mean to you as a dispensary owner? You could get a “guard” who has extensive military and/or law enforcement training one day or a 21 year old the next with zero experience past the 8 to 16 hour security guard training mandated by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. It is safe to say if something bad happened, not only would you be put in more danger by having untrained security guards at your facilities, the chances of him/her remaining calm in a stressful situation and/or acting at all is pretty slim.

There aren’t a lot of companies who will take the risk of this venture. The risk of violence combined with the risk of security officers being arrested is great. When we begin to talk about training (monthly, quarterly, and annually) that hourly/annual price increases substantially. It is industry standard to mark up training and personnel hourly by at least 100%. You would be closer to a paid 3rd party salary of $150k per year for one properly trained and equipped security professional.

Arizona Revised Statue mandates you have “security.” All of your security professionals should be prior law enforcement and/or military (minimum age of 25 with few exceptions). Most military professionals will have participated in the global war on terror or have received extensive training. That statement is significant because these individuals are experienced in threat assessment, security, have probably been shot at, and have lived for a minimum of one year with a weapon within arm’s reach, and most importantly will not “freeze up” when a stressful situation occurs.

There are some huge advantages of allowing a professional security company to manage your
security needs and personnel. First and foremost you know what kind, how much training and experience your security team has. Not only should your employees be going through “refresher” type courses, but they all should have been trained by the government (police and/or military) with experience using their skills in the “real world”. A brief list of things you should look for in a security team:

  •      All employees will be held to the Arizona Police Officer Standards and Training qualifications (AZPOST).
  •      All training documents, qualifications, experience and personal resumes should be turned over or made available to you as an owner as well as local law enforcement.
  •      Personal and professional relationships should be forged with necessary police departments.
  •      Equipment needs to be at a minimum serviceable but preferably relatively new.
  •      Operators should be well trained, well equipped, disciplined, professional and understand the chain of command.
  •      You should know the professionals working for you have real experience and not the minimum 8-16 hours of mandatory DPS training, who may be unreliable or the opposite, eager to exercise his/her perceived authority.
  •      You need a hiring process that is stringent and includes oral boards, backgrounds and polygraphs to “weed out” the unqualified or suspicious.
  •      Ideally, you need a company that will handle all your security needs, from A to Z. This includes supervision of construction, L.E. Liaison, procuring all equipment, scheduling training, logistics of training, personnel scheduling, alarm/cctv monitoring, complete hiring process, employee surveillance/investigations, procuring proper insurance, 24/7 response to any issues with either facility and personal security of any employees if needed. If it has to do with keeping employees, patients, your business and/or your assets safe we will do it so that you can run your business without security concerns.

In addition, your security company should monitor all the on-going issues that you as owners should not have to worry about. By that I mean the monitoring of employees credit, spending habits and interaction with outside parties. (This can be done overtly or covertly) This may not make sense, so let me explain further. The biggest mistake law enforcement agencies make is not continuing to check backgrounds of their officers. This is the biggest reason “bad cops” are rarely exposed. If there is or would’ve been continually monitored credit reports, bank statements, following up on conversations overheard that are suspicious etc. the bad cop issue wouldn’t be an issue at all. Now take high-end marijuana and the dollar signs that go with it and think about how tempting it may be for employees to supplement their income. Employees need to be monitored just as vigilantly as outside threats.

Given the nature of this business expect you and your employees to be approached by friends, family and worse case, cartel members about your business. These incidents need to be documented and tracked. Money and drugs do funny things to people. It is a serious security issue that needs to be constantly monitored. You need professionals who can take on this task for you and understand the difference between innocent contact/inquiries and something that needs to be addressed and/or monitored.

The biggest threat in our eyes is the Mexican drug cartels. There are many smuggling routes throughout the state. Once the cartels start to notice a decline in their business, they are very likely to take action against those hindering their ability to make money. We have spoken with Pinal County Sheriff Deputies, Maricopa County Sheriff Deputies as well as officers with AZ DPS and multiple city police departments who are concerned about this issue as well. When the cartels decide to take action it will be violent. It could be anything from an armed assault, fire/arson, bombing, intimidation etc.

The only way you are going to keep your employees, family, patients and business as safe as they can be is to have a well-equipped and trained force to deal with anything that may come up. Keep in mind the response time for police agencies in Arizona averages nine minutes to high priority 911 calls. A lot can happen in nine minutes. Most violent crime is over in three minutes or less.

Another advantage to retaining a good security company is law enforcement liaison. This liaison should be in contact with the local city police department as well as the appropriate county law enforcement office. This relationship is vital for intelligence gathering and information sharing. With a liaison your notification time of any impending danger and/intelligence sharing should be mitigated. This early warning system, so to speak, will allow your security force to respond quicker, be better prepared, add personnel if necessary, as well as allow the local law enforcement agencies to do their job.

A vital role of this liaison would be to keep local law enforcement informed. This may seem like a simple statement, but it is not. Police departments look at security personnel as liabilities and view their training as lacking. Your liaison should be in direct contact with beat officers, supervisors as well as any special response team to inform them of your employees’ qualifications, attire, weapons carried, weapons qualifications and most importantly training records. This is vital information for law enforcement to have if they were to have to respond to your business for any reason. Not only will this foster professional courtesy it builds relationships that will greatly benefit your business. What this really means is that if the local PD knows you employ professionals and has personal knowledge of this they are more likely to extend professional courtesy and treat your business with respect instead of distain. For instance, if you had a neighboring business that doesn’t like the fact you have a medical marijuana dispensary and constantly calls law enforcement for perceived issues, our relationship with first responders and law enforcement in general would make nuisance calls much easier to deal with. To further explain, responding officers would know they could trust the people that are working for you thus making their job easier.

Not only will retaining a professional security company help keep you, your employees, your patients and your investment safe, but it also it will also help legitimize your establishment in the eyes of law enforcement and the public.


By John Hopper
Director of Investigative Services
JB National Investigations

*JB National Investigations managing members have over 50 years of law enforcement, military, security and investigative experience. We have contacts in law enforcement ranging from local PD to decision makers at the federal level. Our security consulting and soon-to-be-offered security services are unrivaled in Arizona. Again, all of our personnel is prior military or law enforcement. Then we would train our employees to Arizona Police Officer Standards first. After they have met these standards we raise the bar significantly. Our officers would be well versed in interpersonal communications skills, firearms proficiency, and use of force as well as customer service. Think about a combination of the nicest most professional police officer you have ever met combined with the greatest warrior you have ever seen on TV, that’s what you would get when you retain our services.

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