For those who live states where pot is illegal, the concept of cannabis security systems could seem outrageous. “You mean a sock drawer?” some have joked, barely able to mask their incredulity.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, however, many have moved beyond the less-than-secure dresser option. Even before legalization went into effect in July 2015, cannabis companies in Oregon and Washington recognized that the industry has particular needs. As a result of Measure 91, more formally known as the Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act, anyone who wants a license from the state to grow, process or sell can (and some argue, should) invest in specialized cannabis security systems in order to protect their goods.
Oregon has a number of governmental agencies involved in the cannabis industry. The Oregon Health Authority serves as the overarching governing body and the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program falls under its jurisdiction. According to its website, the OMMP “oversees the medical marijuana cardholder registry for patients and regulates medical marijuana dispensaries, processors and grow sites.” Additionally, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will begin licensing for a permanent recreational cannabis program in 2016. At the moment, the OMMP requires that cannabis businesses have high-quality video monitoring systems, servers and alarm systems, but each agency contributes to the regulatory rules governing the industry.
Even in 2011, Garrit Hunt knew that Oregon users needed some sort of protection system. He founded GTC Security in January of that year, as he describes, “with the primary focus of utilizing my seven years of active duty military experience as a rescue technician and RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer) security personnel to provide overall protection for Oregon’s cannabis industry.”
For Hunt, the interest in cannabis was personal. A native of Hawaii, he says he was very much aware of the medicinal properties of cannabis. After his time in the U.S. Air Force, he moved back to the Big Island to be with his wife, who suffers from chronic lupus. The family later moved to Portland to seek treatment for her medical condition. Medical marijuana helps her alleviate nausea, so Hunt began immersing himself in the scene to make sure they could obtain what she needed. “Because I was spending so much time at the different cannabis clubs, I was exposed to the security threats facing the cannabis industry, and at that time, the lack of any security company willing to provide them with any service,” Hunt said.
For three years, GTC Security was the only security company servicing Oregon’s cannabis industry. It currently offers security floor-plan design services compliant with both OHA and OLCC standards, video surveillance and alarm system installation, alarm monitoring and notification service, armed protection, secure transportation and training assistance. Plus, he says, “We are still the only company in Oregon willing to take on the additional expense and risk to provide low-signature armed protection and transportation services.”
Like other businesses, GTC Security has its competitors. Noah Stokes, president and CEO of CannaGuard Security, launched his company in August 2014 at the CannaCon in Tacoma, Wash. Stokes, who also owns residential and commercial electronic security company OmniGuard, began to receive requests for cannabis protection services.
“I started to notice that we were getting more and more people reaching out, and that all the big security-alarm companies were turning them away for a variety of reasons,” Stokes says.
With a background in the home security industry and as a proponent of legalized marijuana (he’s also a member of the Oregon Cannabis PAC and worked with the OLCC to craft the rules and regulations of recreational usage), Stokes decided to start CannaGuard as a specialty service to compliment his more traditional company.
According to the company website, CannaGuard offer wireless connections, monitored alarms, alert notifications, mobile app management and more. Stokes says all of these services have two main applications. “First,” he said, “is to help the state verify compliance to its regulations. They need to be able to look back at what happened and make sure that the licensee was doing everything legally. The second, once we check that box, is to actually protect the facility.
“They are two totally different things, but happen to use very similar technology,” he said. “People hire us because of our methods, our technology that we deploy and, probably most significantly, our experience and involvement in the industry.”
As legalized cannabis continues to become more socially acceptable in places such as Oregon, the rules governing it will change and evolve. At this early stage, the need for cannabis security systems serves both the state agencies and the industry. As the business climate continues to normalize, companies like GTC Security and CannaGuard will keep working with the state to support compliance, and as Stokes says, “to ensure that the system is fair, accomplishes what it is set out to do…and applies common sense and normal business practices to every other aspect of the business.”