The cannabis market has been an exceptionally bright spot for security integrators throughout the Covid crisis. Legal sales within the U.S., which totaled $13.9 billion in 2019, will reach $24 billion in 2021. Economists predict this astronomical growth rate will continue for years to come.
Cannabis is now legal, in some capacity, in 42 states. In March of 2021, New York became the 15th state to legalize its recreational use. Supply chains in each state include grow operations, warehouses, transit, dispensaries, and in some cases, retail storefronts. All require extensive security.
Regulations for how licensed operators must protect their product and employees exist only at the state level. Most dictate strict video surveillance technology specifications, including camera resolution, device placement, storage requirements, and much more. By contrast, the regulations are uniformly vague regarding access control technology. Michigan, which is somewhat typical in its lack of specificity, requires locking interior rooms, windows, points of entry, and exits with commercial-grade, non-residential door locks. There is no mention of the types of systems best deployed to meet these requirements. Illinois goes the furthest in specifying technology. It requires the use of electronic door locks.1
While cannabis operators are not required to invest in electronic access control systems, they have every incentive to do so. All states require that access to product and facilities be tightly managed, and access logs kept. Failure to comply with security regulations can result in loss of their license, closure of their business, hefty fines, and even jail time. Electronic access control is the easiest way to regulate access and automate record-keeping.
Selecting the right access control solution is of critical importance. Cannabis sites demand the highest levels of security. The product is lightweight, easy to transport, and worth far more than its retail price on the black market, which still exists in most states. Unlike other industries that view product shrinkage as an inevitable part of doing business, cannabis operators must take theft far more seriously. Failure to report missing product immediately to authorities incurs severe penalties.
Using biometrics instead of cards, fobs, or mobile credentials, dramatically improves the effectiveness of access control systems. The iris, specifically, provides the most secure, trustworthy method available for verifying the identity of individuals. The probability of a false match is less than one in one million. Unlike card readers or pin pads, iris readers prevent anyone but intended users from opening doors, gates, cabinets – anywhere an electronic locking mechanism and reader can be installed. Irises cannot be shared, borrowed, or stolen and remain constant over time. Once users are registered in the system, the administrator can change their access permissions as desired, but they never need to be re-enrolled.
Reporting of events in the form of an activity log is standard for electronic access control systems. That remains true when they utilize biometrics. Cannabis operators can easily provide an accounting of all personnel with access to restricted areas, as well as time-stamped documentation of their “ins” and “outs.” Unlike other solutions, with biometrics, administrators can feel 100% confident that their logs reflect reality without double-checking corresponding video surveillance clips.
Deploying biometric identity technology does more than ensure superior security and accurate reporting. It also provides a more seamless experience for system users. Workers no longer need to carry around an access badge or fiddle with their phone to open a door. Touchless iris readers require nothing more than a glance to identify users, even when they’re wearing eyeglasses.
Today's cannabis market is like a runaway train, with government regulators struggling to build tracks quickly enough to keep it on the rails. When it comes to access control, the onus is on cannabis operators and their security advisors to steer their businesses safely and legally without much direction on how to do so. For now, they can model themselves after long-established, tightly regulated, high-security industries like banking and pharmaceutical manufacturing, for whom biometric access is quickly gaining traction. By diminishing the risk of theft, simplifying system management for administrators, automating procedures and reporting required for regulatory compliance, and delivering a more convenient, seamless user experience, cannabis operators who invest in biometric access control benefit from a significant return-on-investment as well as peace of mind.