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Cannabis Security: The Hardest Easy Job You'll Ever Have
In California, security work can look like a shortcut into the cannabis industry. Despite popular belief, one doesn’t even need to have a bouncer’s tough aura to work the door at dispensary. It can pay $25-an-hour in a modest-wage municipality like Fresno. Or, it can pay twice as much -- though it won’t feel like it – in San Francisco.
Since the state requires all open dispensaries to employ security, these public-facing positions will have openings for as long as brick-and-mortar dispensaries remain viable . But the opportunities don’t end there. Workers who are dependable, trustworthy, and willing to hang around a spell may find themselves escorting cash or product in an armored vehicle, or watching over a manufacturing site, either in person or on video far from the scene.
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“When you say security, you’re talking about a range of personnel,” said Elvis McGovern, founder of EL Rey Engineering - which specializes in custom security work for the Cannabis Industry.
State and local laws and industry standards are new enough that job seekers who don’t have drug dealing offenses can get to work quickly. Too quickly, in too many instances.
“As a private patrol officer I can bring someone off the street and give them eight hours of training” before putting them to work, Sacramento-area consultant Matt Carroll said. Carroll, who comes from a law enforcement background, said state rules call for 40 training hours, but private security companies sometimes throw their newbies into the mixture after only one workday of preparation.
Are cannabis dispensaries, cultivation sites, manufacturers, distributors and lab testers actually getting that government-mandated training?
“You would hope,” he said.
Carroll divides candidates for this kind of cannabis work into three types: The wanna-bes, gonna-bes, and has-beens. The first two tend to be young and enthusiastic but have holes in their resumes wide enough to drive through.
In the quickly evolving and cash-intensive cannabis industry, security personnel can see action quickly. And that makes the experienced has-beens the most desirable applicants.
You may have heard about Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (D) accompanying an Oregon operator as he carried a $70,000 tax payment, in a duffle bag. Carroll shared the story of having to escort much more money. “I carried $1.4M into City Hall. I wasn’t feeling really good about it, but one of my clients was representing a number of companies.”
That kind of guard work, a mix of vigilance and chill, is right in the wheelhouse of a specific swath of aspirational and unemployed American. “The silver lining of 20 years of war is we have a plethora of veterans coming out of war zones with immense experience in convoy operations,” Carroll said. He said veteran applicants of this sort should emphasize “Intermodal Security” experience on their linked LinkedIn pages and cover letters.
Distribution companies, which work with large amounts of cash and product, are especially in need of these veterans. However, Carroll said the industry has a problem with distribution and cultivation operations “allowing unscreened employees learning vault locations and “untold volumes of information” before quitting.
In the year and a half since REC went legal, the security job has changed. The out-of-the-shadows-and-into-the-public-record transition has put increased pressure on security guards. Dispensaries are the cannabis enterprises most often cased by burglars. In addition, to that vigilance, the work often requires constant interaction with the public.
Wannabe security guards who don’t have transport experience can find their niche by coming across as someone who’ll stick around. Dispensaries are plagued by high turnover.
“The hardest thing is to find someone who wants to do it,” McGovern, of El Rey said. “A lot of people use cannabis as a stepping stone ,” quickly flipping low-level gigs into better ones.
Manufacturers, on the other hand, offer up prepped product.
“You could steal a thousand vape cartridges under your arm,” according to Carroll. Even lab tests sites are targeted for theft, despite their relative lack of goods and money on site. Some poorly-informed heisters simply track cannabis vehicles.
As with all things cannabis, the rules get a little funky as one moves between legal states and Canada: Local municipalities differ in gun requirements. (For example, in California In-house guards can’t carry guns.) The unifying element of regulation is that businesses all over California are subject to losing their licenses if they fail public safety testing, of which security is part.
And yet Carroll, who still teaches new security guards twice a month at his school in Sacramento, still sees companies operating with toothless, “scarecrow” security teams and simply not showing sufficient vigilance. He shared a story of one company which nearly got an official ding when an anti-pot activist spotted a child on the property of a dispensary and reported it.
“As an emerging industry, there’s still a lot of skeptics and critics that are going to be monitoring,” Carroll says.
Turned out that the kid in question belonged to an Amazon deliverer. Regardless, the dispensary security guard overlooking the child’s presence nearly cost the operator mightily.
While IT companies still handle the vast majority of high-end security work -- robot camera installation and operation and such -- that focused person with an associate’s degree and a record unblemished by drug and theft convictions can play a significant role in the life of an industry unlike any other.
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