Are Security Requirements For Legal Pot Grows Enough?
Washington state’s new pot grow operations have state-required alarm systems, dozens of cameras and tall fences. But some growers said they aren’t worried about theft and violence.
Should they be?
Pot farmer Susy Wilson doesn’t like keys and locks much. She’s not too security-driven in her life, but at her pot farm in the Columbia Gorge, she doesn’t have a choice.
First, there’s the bear-sized German shepherd named Zeus. And every window and door has an alarm. Cameras are everywhere, shooting video that can’t be discarded for 45 days. Everyone on the premises must wear a name badge.
Wilson says her business partner is a little more concerned with security than she is, and he’s taken extra precautions, including “a bull horn over there by the door with a big siren on it.”
And that’s not all. Wilson sounds a little frustrated as she describes his big Taser wand.
“My feeling is that if people are coming in with guns a blazing, then I need to get out,” Wilson said. “Otherwise, what is it that I have to worry about? Someone crawling over the fence and stealing a bud?”
Rigid Security Rules
Wilson, her partners and her spouse underwent state-mandated background checks, and had to report their criminal histories dating back to their youth.
“I think the Liquor Control Board treats it less legal than the general public does quite frankly,” she said.
The state rules are meticulous. A 16-digit bar code follows the pot from sprout to sale, ensuring that none of it goes out the back door. After it’s packaged, the marijuana must be quarantined for a day before it’s shipped to a buyer.
On the road, it must stay in Washington. That means Wilson’s shipments must travel the twisting Washington State Route 14 instead of the speedier Interstate 84 just on the other side of the Columbia River in Oregon.
Still, Wilson says she’s hoping her remote small-town location will aid her some. And she adds she’s going to run her pot farm like she has her life — smart, but without fear.
“I moved to the South Pacific for a few years, and did massage therapy,” she said, “and traveled around Micronesia, and learned to scuba dive.”
This woman has done a lot. But is she being cavalier about this latest adventure? What about gangs, cartels, kids with guns, dishonest employees?
The Fort Knox Of Pot
One company has basically built a fortress to protect its pot.
If Seal Team 6 broke into the building and got access to the vault, they’d still need three semi-trucks to carry the cannabis away.
“We have a 70,000-square-foot warehouse that is surrounded by physical security including barbwire fences,” said Brendan Kennedy who heads Tilray, the operator of one of the world’s largest legal pot grows.
But this farm is not in the U.S.; it’s just across the border in British Columbia where it produces weed for Canada’s legal medical marijuana customers. This fortress on Vancouver Island doesn’t keep its harvested marijuana in a barn.
“There is a vault inside of it that’s as sophisticated as any bank vault that you’ve ever seen,” Kennedy said. “We have a security team that’s former RCMP members — Mounties — on staff. We have about 70 high-resolution cameras.”
But Kennedy says the sheer volume of pot plays in the farm’s favor, too. It’s not like stealing a work of art or a gold bar.
“If Seal Team 6 broke into the building and got access to the vault, they’d still need three semi-trucks to carry the cannabis away,” Kennedy said.
Still, he says Washington’s new growers should pay the most attention to those closest to them, on the inside.
“Security starts before you hire someone,” Kennedy said. “So I would spend a lot of time on background checks and reference checks.”
'If The Dogs Don’t Get You, The Guns Will'
In Wenatchee, Washington, the owners of a major indoor grow operation there say they still aren’t too worried about break-ins.
“You know, you walk into an operation like this and for most people, it’s really kind of breathtaking,” Eric Cooper said. “They sort of go, ‘Ohhhhh. Never seen a grow like that before, especially all indoors.’”
Cooper and his daughter, Katey Cooper, are part owners of Monkey Grass Farms.
“You know, over here we still all own guns and we still have dogs,” Eric Cooper said. “So if the dogs don’t get you, the guns will.”
“We don’t have guns here, though,” Katey Cooper added. “Not on property.”
“No, but close by,” Eric Cooper noted.
Some growing operations and pot stores are hiring their own security teams. Still, at least for now, there appears to be no obvious need. Over the last five months, there have only been a handful of minor break-ins. One thief got caught after vaulting over a fence and setting off an alarm. Another stole a couple of plants but was soon turned in by a family member for a $500 reward.
One thief did get away. The haul though wasn’t too much — just a couple of energy drinks.
This project is a collaboration with Jordan Schrader of The News Tribune in Tacoma. Read his companion piece to this story. For more photos see our slideshow on Flickr.