California Medical Marijuana Dispensary Security; Review and Recommendations

California Medical Marijuana Dispensary Security; Review and Recommendations

Editor’s note: While this article focuses on security issues for California Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, much of the information is applicable to marijuana medical dispensaries in other states and even non-medical marijuana stores in states where recreational marijuana is legal like Oregon, Washington & Colorado.

Background on Medical Marijuana in California

In 1996 voters in California passed Proposition 215 which allowed people with a physician’s signature to grow and consume marijuana on a medicinal basis (1). Next, the Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) Act (Senate Bill 420) of 2004 required the California Department of Public Health (DPH) to register medical marijuana patients and caregivers through an identification card system (1 & 2). The last big move came in 2007 when the California State Board of Equalization (BOE) confirmed a policy to tax medical marijuana and require sellers (collectives and cooperatives) of medical marijuana to have a Seller’s Permit (1).

Collectives and cooperatives (also simplified as dispensaries) in California, are given their authority through the MMP. A collective is defined as a business (or similar) owned and operated by a group of people. They solely conduct marijuana transactions to card holding members (1). On the other hand, a cooperative is defined as a business incorporated with the state. This type of business does not make a profit for themselves but primarily for their members. For example, “The earnings and savings of the business must be used for the general welfare of its members or equitably distributed to members in the form of cash, property, credits, or services” (1). They are subject to more stringent regulations than collectives but, similar to collectives, they solely conduct marijuana transactions to card holding members (1). Regardless of a businesses definition, security for life and property are of the utmost importance.


            The Bulbulyan Consulting Group, a cannabis consulting firm from Burbank, CA has suggested for stores encountering high rates of crime, to consider trying: interior/exterior motion detectors, security cameras, panic buttons, strong exterior glass, protected counters (floor to ceiling shields), safes, selective client entry with permission granting door openers, background checks for employees, hiring security guards, and building local police relationships (4).

While the above recommendations are excellent if done together, these and other security requirements are not clearly spelled out in state law,* leaving room for business owners’ own interpretation of this topic. Thus, after reviewing some of the material on this topic, good practices include protecting patients and adjacent businesses, handling cash and inventory safely, and screening of patrons.

First, protecting patients or customers is not uncommon for a business but having to protect adjacent or other businesses in the neighborhood may come at a surprise. As for the latter, one reason for police raids on dispensaries are neighbors complaining about the business bringing problems to the area (2). For example, store owners that allow people to loiter in the front, back or sides of their business (1, 2 & 5) may be giving thepolice justifiable cause to start an investigation against them.

Adding a security guard to the payroll can be a valuable addition to a stores safety and reputation. State law dictates that a licensed dispensary should be able to prevent any unauthorized entrance to medical marijuana areas and the stealing of medical marijuana (4). In addition, having a good relationship with the local police (2) can help with response times when an emergency arises** or too simply have another set of eyes on the business.

Second, creating safe cash and inventory handling practices is important to prevent external and internal theft. A lot of medical marijuana dispensaries are cash businesses and may have a lot of cash in the store at one time. Additionally, because of medical marijuana being illegal on the Federal level***, most banks will not allow medical marijuana businesses to make deposits or open business accounts (4). With that said, dispensaries should not keep all their money in one location and should regularly move it to a more secure location than a commercial store.

Similarly, the amount of inventory in a store may make them a target for crime (4). California law requires dispensaries to store medical marijuana not actively being sold or displayed, in a safe or secure room to prevent theft**** (5). One step further would be to avoid overloading the store with merchandise.

Lastly, dispensaries should screen for qualified members and notsell medical marijuana to unapproved patrons (3). For example, asking patrons for their medical marijuana card and physicians note recommending medical marijuana be prescribed and keeping records of who bought medical marijuana (1 & 3), should be a common occurrence.

Private Security+

In particular a lot of businesses choose to hire a security guard to protect their customers and property. JB National Investigations, a private security firm from Arizona, in an article titled Dispensary Security: What You Need to Know, analyzes features of an effective security force for any dispensary. They say hiring a professional security company with personnel that has extensive training (i.e. former law enforcement and or former military) can give an assurance of operational competence in this role (6). Additionally, hiring former law enforcement can theoretically make building a working relationship with local police easier; and having a security company in good standing with local law enforcement can make receiving intelligence of threats and building a defense before the threat occurs, easier (6).

Hiring a security firm takes the stress off the owner. The security firm can handle all steps in the security process (i.e. training, arming, working with local police in an incident, etc.). Furthermore, police response times can be slow and having a well trained guard on location at all times can deter and rapidly stopcrimes in progress (6).

Case Study: Marysville, CA and Malibu, CA

            With vague security laws at the state level, local cities and counties have been free to shape security requirements for dispensaries in their jurisdictions. What follows is a look at two California cities security requirements.

Marysville is a city in Northern California with a population of around 12,000 people. City legislature has voted on the following laws surrounding collectives and cooperatives selling medical marijuana: all dispensaries need burglar alarms. For every 1,000 square feet of building space, one security guard must be on duty while the store is operating. The interiors of dispensaries shall not have any obstructed views. For example, someone should be able to see the entire dispensary from anywhere in the store. Security cameras should face parking lot(s), entrances and exits, adjacent areas to the building, and transaction areas. Lastly, interior lights should be a minimum of two foot candles and exterior lights should be a minimum of one foot candles and operate from sunset to sunrise (7).

Next, Malibu is a city in Southern California with a population of around 13,000 people. City legislature has voted that dispensaries exterior lights should be a minimum one foot candles and remain on at least one hour after closing. Security guards have to be at all entrances and exits during operating hours. Additionally, if the City Manager requests it, guards should patrol a two-block radius around the dispensary (for neighbors well being) during any hours of operation. Dispensaries shall not store more than $200 in cash overnight in the dispensary. Lastly, dispensaries shall appoint a community relations person to act as a liaison for law enforceme
nt and community members inquiries (8).

Clearly there are similarities between these two sets of laws. Both cities require a security guard present during the hours of operation and have minimum requirements on exterior lighting. At the same time, the law differs from city to city. For example, Marysville requires alarms, store layout do’s and dont’s, and strict security camera protocol (7), while Malibu reserves the right to require dispensaries to patrol the neighborhoods surrounding the store, restrict cash reserves stored overnight in the store, and requiring dispensaries to appoint a community relations person to act as a liaison for law enforcement and community members (8).

In conclusion, one thing is for sure, no matter where the dispensary is located, the cost of starting out and remaining safe is expensive. In the past marijuana dispensaries have been hit hard by thieves internally and externally. The information presented here is a means to start to understand what is necessary to be secure in this peculiar line of business. If someone is thinking about opening a medical marijuana or recreational marijuana dispensary, a review of the city or counties laws is a good place to start.marijuana thumb

Corey is a reader and contributor to He can be contacted directly via email at: