Article33 Protecting Cannabis Patients & Providers in a COVID Era - The High Ground Ep. 26 w/ Ken Wolf
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Curbside pickup of cannabis may be exposing both customers and patients to unnecessary risk of robbery. 28 of 32 states with legal cannabis have implemented some form of curbside pickup options for cannabis dispensaries, but our guest today says there's a lack of guidance when it comes to what's required of businesses in terms of security.
Jesse Betend talked with Ken Wolf of Ken Wolf Security Consulting. Ken's company helps dispensaries get licensed by working them through the process and helping them craft the security plan, which in most cases is required in order to get licensed in the first place. We'll get into why Ken is concerned, what he thinks can be done about it, and why he's calling on both dispensary owners and police officers to do more.
Jesse: For TRICHOMES.com I'm Jesse Betend and this is The High Ground. On this show we talked to leaders of the Cannabis Community, everyone from Farmers to CEOs and public officials, anyone making an impact on the Cannabis community and beyond. Curbside pickup of cannabis may be exposing both customers and patients to unnecessary risk of robbery. 28 of 32 states with legal cannabis have implemented some form of curbside pickup options for cannabis dispensaries but my guest today says there's a lack of guidance when it comes to what's required of businesses in terms of security. Today I'm talking with Ken Wolf of Ken Wolf security Consulting. Ken's company helps dispensaries get licensed by working them through the process and helping them craft the security plan which in most cases is required in order to get licensed in the first place. We'll get into why Ken is concerned, what he thinks can be done about it and why he's calling on both dispensary owners and police officers to do more. Ken, thank you so much for joining me.
Ken: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
Jesse: So I guess this is going to be kind of the over-simple statement of the century but cannabis dispensaries really are enticing targets for potential robberies, which makes them somewhat dangerous places. Is that fair to say?
Ken: Oh, absolutely. They are a prime target in normal times but in the age of covid and kind of this tense violent atmosphere tone that's being set from the very top of our government and the fact that mask wearing is the norm, you've got a lot of factors that are really combining to make it even more dangerous.
Jesse: And so you just mentioned a couple of them but let's kind of break that down into a couple of categories. I think already cannabis, you know, it's been talked about a lot as a high-volume cash business which often can't work with banks. There's a lot of money on hand, not to mention it's an expensive product. The store is selling itself is valuable but you know you mentioned how coronavirus is making it more dangerous. What are some of the specific ways that that danger is heightened for retailers?
Ken: Well, if there's one message that I could get across in this interview I would say is I want to sound the alarm about the fact that 28 of the 32 states that have cannabis programs are offering curbside. Which is great and convenient but they're offering it without any security protocols so that is the main message I'd like to deliver as we have, people have to step up. Dispensary owners, local police departments, we must get together and put security plans in place because security plans for dispensaries in every state, although they vary, they're all built around the internal experience of going into a dispensary. So this is a whole new climate and nobody's addressing this even when we've had going, you know, since the beginning of covid during the early months in March, I think it was Denver had a serial armed robber hit five places, was finally caught, you know wearing the mask which helped and then, you know, we'll probably touch about it, talk about it more but the very sad situation in Oakland where a female was shot and killed at a dispensary in the lobby and yet I think it was part of the same day or within the same 24 hours in Oklahoma another shootout where a female budtender was critically injured. So what I like to just underscore is that we have to connect these dots and realize this is a national problem for all of us in the Cannabis industry.
Jesse: I kind of want to break down what you're saying there or shine a light a little bit on one specific aspect of what you just said, which if I understand correctly security plans as they exist right now in compass, what happens inside the dispensary because that's routinely where these transactions have taken place. Is it that the dispensaries think that their responsibility ends at the front door?
Ken: They do have outside cameras but they're really not designed for high resolution coverage of the parking lots themselves, so the short answer to your question is yes, the majority, vast majority of the security protocols and procedures and systems are all about the inside and then you know, the only exception would be sort of the cameras that are on the outside some states like Massachusetts, which you'll hear me refer to the gold standard in terms of security requirements. You have to actually approach a kiosk, show yourID and then your buzz in to what we call a manport or a man trap or sally port where you're still contained in the bullet proof booth to be buzzed in once again, when it is determined that you know, you are a patient and not somebody armed or dangerous.
Jesse: How do customers in Massachusetts feel about that?
Ken: I think they're fine. I serve on the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance and so we are very close with the patient community and the patients deserve the highest level of quality and I don't think it interferes and at all with in terms of service. I think it actually expedites service when you have, you know, a very thorough multi-layered security from cameras to intrusion alarms, to motion detectors to keypads and controlled door access. You have so many layers. That's all just stuff to really protect the patient and the providers.
Jesse: So circling back to the idea that the current security plans perhaps don't go far enough, obviously with the extension of curbside programs as you mentioned in 28 of 32 states that obviously does mean that people are operating outside of their normal environment and I can imagine some of the security issues that come up with that but why don't you tell us what are some of the specific issues that you've identified when it comes to curbside pickup. I understand that your firm actually has created a video that shows some of the potential vulnerabilities to both employees and patients or customers. Would you mind kind of walking us through some of the things that you found?
Ken: Absolutely so the video which by the way we obtained, we didn't produce this, this was a real transaction that makes it able to obtain so it begins with basically, this is some form of a strip mall, which is very common here in Florida. So you have a patient that appears to be in a parking lot that definitely is not under you know, if it's picked up by a camera, it's not going to be high resolution number one and you see in the video, the patient has a pile of cash. In fact, there's $100 bill and a bunch of 20’s sitting in her lap and we can point out, you know, that's like vulnerability number one, you know, and then the gentleman from the dispensary does come out, I think the bartender by himself, no security person with him. No bodycam, really no protection except for the mask, which of course he needs to wear and what he does is he confirms with her what her order is and then goes back in and leaves her again back out in the car vulnerable. A sitting duck in my opinion. So he comes back out, provides the product which is again very tempting would be very tempting to an armed robber who at this point, if you're an armed robber you could even get the products in an order which is probably worth a couple hundred dollars and then you could get all the cash as well. That's all sitting right there, you know in the open without really any security protocols. So the actual whole length of this transaction is about 10 minutes from beginning to end and it's 10 minutes of full vulnerability. The patient is not protected in any way that I could see except for possibly a camera remotely picking up a little bit of the car that she's in and it's not in front of the dispensaries it’s further out.
Jesse: Yeah and it sounds like there are a number of things already just like you said in this basic example, do you know when it comes to some of the dispensaries that your company has worked with, are there any policies about how dispensary workers are identifying themselves? Obviously, there's going to be some for uniform in most cases, right? So customers should know who's approaching the car.
Ken: Yeah. Hey you beat me on that one. I miss that, yeah in this case actually you'll see it but either way somebody could get hold of a t-shirt. There's no ID on, it would be nice for the representative from the dispensary to have an actual ID around his neck so that he could reassure the patient that, hey okay this is who I am and you know, so good catch if you should go into security.
Jesse: You know but it's interesting to me here because it does sound like everybody involved feels like this is a routine everyday. They sound like they're at ease and not particularly high alert.
Ken: Well, then I would ask them to see another video which unfortunately has gone viral and just breaks my heart and that's the viral video of the Oakland shooting last week where again a number of protocols are violated and unfortunately the full length video that's online shows being shot, cowering in a corner and ultimately falling over and dying so, you know, this is deadly serious stuff.
Jesse: Yeah when it comes to the situation in Oakland, what are some of the things that you mentioned, some violations or things that didn't go correctly? What were some of the things that you noticed about that situation?
Ken: There's a lot in the Oakland circumstance. So what was happening, this was basically closing time, it was around 10:00 p.m. So basically they probably they let the last few patients and customers in and locked the door and then the video pretty much starts with the security guard or manager, I don't know because he is not in uniform but basically it shows him unlocking the door and then sticking his head out just so you know, there's a real quick, so right there before he even did that a proper site that's properly secure would have the cameras to basically surveil the entire area, you know and see if there's somebody hanging around and when you watch, if anyone watches this video of the Oakland shooting, it's clear that the robber is very close to the door, very very close to the door, so that door should have never been opened in the first place, you know, and I know a lot of this is, it's easy to be you know, hindsight is 20/20 and to be a you know armchair, you know analyst but I say this only because I want to prevent this from happening again and I say it from the perspective of what we have in the guidelines in Massachusetts, which would never have allowed, you know, the standard procedure would have been to do a full video check of the entire premises, you know, all the cameras. If there's anything suspicious they need then you hold out you know, what? You know in this case, I think, I believe if they had the proper cameras they would have seen this suspicious person who is apparently very close to the door and most Police Department's you know, what they want you to call and report. I mean, you know, you're a dispensary, you're closing after busy day, you've got probably, you know, $100,000 in cash and product and you know, it's a situation, a very dangerous situation and then you have four patients that you're letting out of the dispensary. So I think most Police Department's would welcome, hey you know, just want to let you know we're closing. There's a guy hanging around the front door. We just wanted to make you aware of it. Most police departments would say, you know what? Let's just send somebody over and check it out. That's you know, that's the thing you do but as you see in that video, what happens is he peeks out. He does a very you know quick look doesn't, he didn't really fully scanned, you know, really ideally what he would do is go out himself and surveyed the whole parking lot with his eyes only after he did the video, making sure the video is the closed circuit TV show that it was clear then doing it with his own eyeballs. Then letting the patient's go out but instead he basically does this quick little peek and then just opens the door and the patients are filing out. Every one of those four, patients guess what they are doing as they are walking out.
Jesse: What? They’re looking at their phones?
Ken: Looking at their phones! Hey, I'm talking to you, they're all glued to their phones. Every one of them. So it's another message if I could underscore, Please be aware of your surroundings. Especially when it is a potentially dangerous situation because you know, they walk out like sitting ducks. They walk out, they're all now in front of the store and you can see the first thing you see is the security guard grabbed his gun. Which in and of itself would be not again when we make policies and procedures for dispensaries, that is not what we've done. Obviously, he did, he found and saw the suspicious character. He grabs the gun from his back and everybody runs back in. Now at that point, I would say everybody on, you know, using our SOP you would be, everybody would be asked to just lay down on the ground face down to not make eye contact and and tell the burglar ,you know, hopefully the burglar is not a robber. Robber is usually armed means that they're armed. Hey take what you want. It's all yours. We're not going to look at you. We're not going to do you. The money is there in that corner, the cannabis is over here. That all could be replaced. Dispensaries have insurance but instead what happens is the robber chases them into the lobby. They run to the lobby. The robber is the last one to enter and I'm trying to get, I'm trying to reach out to police departments because I want to confirm this but it appears the security guard is pointing the gun at the robber, so at that point you have an escalation. We know and we really try to teach de-escalation. I'm actually a, I was a volunteer reserve police officer in Cambridge, Cambridge Massachusetts. Seriously, it is very progressive and it's all about de-escalation. So that fire, by pulling out that firearm you're escalating that situation. So at this point the robber opens fire because he has a gun pointed at it. He shoots, you know, he has a high magazine gun, so he's firing bullets everywhere. And this young woman gets hit, you see her getting hit. You see her fall into the corner behind the door shaking and cowering and also the security guard got hit as well. I think he fortunately has survived I think he's in critical condition but has survived. So you know there we have, you know, a lot of problems. If you're a robber and you're looking for money, there's only essential businesses that are open, so it is the most tempting target in the covid age and you could walk in with a total, you know a full mask on and not and not be red-flagged in that regard.
Jesse: It's a really really good point. So I want to ask you a little bit more about in general who these security guards are and you know, when it comes to security companies like how they're, how their staffing but before we move on from the potential vulnerability of curbside. As far as you know with any dispensaries and I understand that it's going to be different by state but you do operate in multiple states, have any of them perhaps been a good example of how they've included curbside in their security plan going forward?
Ken: Great question and I kind of went back and looked before this interview to confirm. So basically all these dispensaries are operating under executive orders by the governor. Now in California you have the 540 municipalities that could kind of have their own wrinkles but when I looked through these executive orders, I saw a little bit of language in Massachusetts about you know, trying to extend the some of the protocols that you have inside but even Massachusetts was pretty weak. Essentially no. The answer, the short answer is no. These states are not providing guidance. They're just saying you're allowed to operate curbside and you know go for it try to be safe and you know, it's open-ended like that.
Jesse: And you mentioned that this has been a concern for you for some time. Have you had conversations with dispensaries? Like what has their response been to you? Does it end at what we're not required to or do they understand the potential risk that they're putting kind of everybody in?
Ken: Yeah, well the ones I work with, I would not work with the dispensary that does not kind of buy into our company's philosophy and at Ken Wold Consulting, we have some core principles. One of them is absolutely protection of the patient, you know, and the staff. Yes, the dispensaries I am working with are following our direction but you know, I'm a small business. So I, you know, I can't say that's not much comfort, in terms of I don't represent for instance any MSO’s. So there's no, you know, guidelines for going through an MSO and hitting many multiple States and multiple locations.
Jesse: In general who are the kinds of people who end up working in cannabis security?
Ken: Well, I think it's you know, these are for-profit businesses and so, you know, they're looking to as you know better than me, budtenders the whole, you know, trimmers, everybody is being squeezed in terms of the salaries and the same applies to security. So I think on the security staffing you're not seeing people with tremendous experience. I think you're, you know, it is pretty much at minimum wage.
Jesse: Hmm and what kind of training? Is that varied by state? By company? Who determines what training is required to be a security guard?
Ken: Well, a lot of states do mandate that the employees are trained. I know Missouri tried to. They're the latest to come on, to roll out. They are rolling out right now, this month and I was happy to see that they mandated ongoing training, initial training and ongoing training of security procedures so that happens but that is not uniform. I don't see that in Florida, Florida's regulations. I do not see it in some other states. Oklahoma for instance is, you know where I just pulled up Oklahoma and saw that there's been a total of four robberies in the past four weeks. So that kind of correlates with lack of guidance, you know, lack of rules and regulations. What it does benefit is if you’re a dispensary owner who is looking to maximize profit and I'm not not saying that's the case with all dispensary owners, but we're talking about it's not even a cost issue, it's just a matter of philosophy of investing in your people, knowing that you could replace, you know, you could replace your stash or your product, tinctures but whatever it still could be replaced, you know concentrates, whatever let them take the friggin brownies. Massachusetts we have cannabis. I mean we have um, yeah cannabis pizza’s at some sites. If they want to take the pizzas to go that's fine but, you know, that's really the most important thing that and that's the type of ownership groups that we work with that know that that's going to come first.
Jesse: And so touching back on something that you said earlier the situation in Oakland, in your estimation was it a mistake for that security guard to escalate the situation by drawing his weapon? Like at the stores that you work with, is the operating procedure just you know, don't confront?
Ken: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean what I'm seeing in these, what we're seeing across country I mentioned Oklahoma but we saw it in Denver and in California is people coming in with assault rifles. So no, you're not going to get engaged in a gun battle, you know, I don't know any dispensary that's arm that has assault rifles but our philosophy is total de-escalation. I actually recommend that they don't even have, that our guards don't even be armed for that reason, you know, so you don't have that risk. It's the same old thing, you know where they, you know, the majority of people that you know have guns at home which I do but you know and everyone has the right to but unfortunately the statistics show that they end up, them or their family members end up being shot more often than a criminal. So, you know, that's a whole other issue that we're not going to get into in terms of gun reform, but no, I do believe that our standard procedure at all our dispensary is zero resistance? I don't want you looking, I don't even what you looking at the guy's eyes because it right there alone, you know, you're getting a description. You just you know, protect yourself get on the ground, look the other way and let them get what they need. I do want to say that all of our dispensaries and most states require it to have duress arms. So, you know, we say if you could hit the alarm and usually we have it in a place that is going to be very easy to hit that duress alarm that's fine but I also want to make sure I work closely with the police departments. I don't want to have a hostage situation either. So in the communities, I work the police know that if there's a duress alarm we don't want you coming with sirens, you know, these are very, you know, wise police departments and we've walked through what do we do when we have an armed robbery. The worst thing that could happen is you end up having a hostage situation. So our police in our communities, they will respond as a what we call, you know, no lights, no sirens. Usually in many cases unmarked cars, you know. I also don't want to give away my trade secrets but I do use GPS so for my police departments and because tell them hey, the guy is now on, you know, Apple Street and 5th, you know and let them approach in a way that they know how to so they don't get shot either or somebody in the public walking their dog.
So wait I'm sorry, how exactly does the GPS tracking work? You're able to follow? Well you can't go into exactly on here but you're saying you would be able to track a potential perp.
Jesse: From a location?
Ken: Yeah without getting into detail yes and the reason I have that is what I believe sure we want the guy apprehended the man or woman that's committing a crime we want them apprehended but not at the expense of a life. So let them let them get in and out of the dispensary and then the technology which I'll just leave at what I've said, we will be able to ultimately find that person. I guarantee you.
Jesse: Are there instances where you've ever worked with police officers to do that? You know to catch a perp or something like that or to track somebody?
Ken: Absolutely! I've experienced actually, I've done some work in the jewelry industry which has a lot of similarities if you’ve been to a high-end jewelry store where they have to buzz you in. So yeah we use this technology. We absolutely have had multiple apprehensions using this technology.
Jesse: Business owners and some advocates within the cannabis industry have made the argument that considering the amount of tax and some states it's as high as 35% on cannabis products that perhaps states have a responsibility to provide additional protection and support through their police departments. Are you sympathetic to that argument? Do you think the police are doing enough? What's your assessment there?
Ken: Oh I absolutely agree with that but I will say it has to be a partnership. I agree that the police department's could do more and I'm familiar that Oakland, you know for instance only has one officer, you know, they have over I think over a hundred and fifty cannabis sites and one police officer assigned for you know investigations. So that's understaffing unfortunately but I think it has to be a partnership. I think the ownership of these dispensaries have to step up to. I think they all need to say hey, you know what this curbside is not going to go away. This is going to be the norm mean first of all, we're going to you know, we're going to have covid around for quite a while clearly and curbside patients deserve the convenience of it but we also, every owner needs to look at their security system and audit it to be appropriate in the covid era, you know, and that's something that I offer to anyone, any dispensary I offer, you know a free audit.
Jesse: Yeah. So actually two questions on that front. We are seeing condemnation of the way that police departments across the country have sometimes conducted themselves when it comes to use of force considering that you’re advocating this de-escalation and really measured approach to confrontation, I'm just curious. I understand that you're an ex-police officer yourself…
Ken: A volunteer reserve officer. Yes.
Jesse: Understood. I mean it's helpful anyway because you have I think some insight into the actual functioning of you know, how the job looks but I guess what I'm wondering is like do we, you talked about all of the things you've done to you know protect against an armed robbery situation turning into a hostage situation. Do you think that dispensaries want police officers outside? And what does that conversation look like given?
Ken: Well that yeah, that's a good question. So the way we approach it, you know, it's legitimate for dispensaries to consider cost, you know, so a detailed officer, you know, it ranges from 72 up to $100 an hour whereas you could have it properly trained security officer there that's you know, and for really almost half the cost and you know, and maybe, it may reassure some people but I think a lot of other people also might feel not comfortable with it.
Jesse: There is a trend kind of across the country of former police officers starting their own security companies and working specifically in cannabis, which I think is unique and notable for a number of reasons but do you think that other security companies share your assessment that de-escalation is the way to go in these situations and when it comes to working with former police officers that become security guards are there conversations that you have to have about you know how this job is different?
Ken: Yeah. Yeah, you're right there is an absolute trend, you know everybody I mean most police officers will hit their pension at 20 years and then you know somebody that's started at 25, you know, they're starting to collect a pension at 45 and then they could go and be the director of security at it cannabis firm but I'll, you know, I go back to the point, well what is this person's background just because you're a law enforcement officer do you understand the Cannabis Community? Do you understand this special needs of working, you know, which in many cases are working with patients who have special needs. So I think the security firms that do best and there was one that was interviewed on your colleagues show that you know, firms like that gentleman's and like mine you want to look for firms that have this unique environment, you know, I have a history of working in the cannabis community. I'm going to really date myself here, but I was apart of the effort, the prop in the 90s to get California to get the exemption during the AIDS epidemic so that we get patients medical cannabis primarily for wasting syndrome. So, you know ,I'd like to see, I'd like to see more diversity in the hiring and not just diversity in the protected classes but also in the like I said people that have a connection to the community and there I'm you know, and there's a lot of cases like you said, this is a big trend now so everybody, you know, everybody wants to jump in it. I call it like a gold rush and when you have a gold rush you attract all sorts of characters, so I think people have to be real judicious. I think it's the right thing to do for your patience and your customers to have somebody that is going to, you know, that is going to be comfortable. For instance, I also helped run an opiate addiction clinic. So I understand what it's like, you know working with patients that are dealing with addiction. I don't know how many police officers are going to be comfortable and that in that regard, you know, there's believe me, there's some very unique issues that come up when you're dealing with addiction and especially the opiate crisis which is another by the way another thing that has rebounded and and compounded the risk of life in the covid era. Is that we were doing so well on slowly bringing down, you know, it's at least in New England, especially where I'm most familiar and now opiate is the addictions and the overdoses have are spiking again.So anyway ,so I do believe you know, I don't believe every officer who retires is the right officer to be the security director for a dispensary.
Jesse: I think that people have a tendency to view security guards as some sort of an authority figure perhaps and you know because they're armed there's a different kind of interaction. I guess. I'm wondering if they're not armed and they're not necessarily there to combat an assailant, what's their role?
Ken: Well, their role is prevention, prevention, prevention. There is a lot of work behind the scenes for security officers to do, you know, my security designs have again, have these man traps that are bulletproof. I also want to point out by the way, I do have a client that has chosen armed. I don't rule out armed if the client wants to go with arm. I just want to make sure that they understand, you know, only in the you know, to absolutely save that person's life because the rule for law enforcement is if you pull out your gun, you're pulling out your gun to kill you're not pulling that your gun to shoot somebody in the leg which you can't do, which is what cops can't do, you gotta be a sharpshooter. So it is very, I mean very unlikely that you're going to have to pull out that gun. It can happen and you should be trained for it but the technology is there to really have a focus on prevention and that's the results I've had so far fortunately. Thank God and with my clients.
Jesse: So one last question for you Ken, you mentioned earlier some things that patients can do. What do you see as like the immediate steps forward that both dispensaries and individual customers could do to make their shopping experience safer.
Ken: Well, I'll tell you a lot of what I just described as the rules for our security guards, really really apply I think for patient or customer beginning with being aware of their surroundings now, they don't have a 360 dome camera above their head but you know, please put down the phone if you're walking into a dispensary or a bank or jewelry store. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in a, you know, if it's a compound situation where it's night time, you're by yourself, you know, just try to avoid making yourself a target. Now the video that we dissected a little bit on the curbside, you know, this woman had a couple hundred dollars, right? You can see, you know to sitting on her lap, I think sitting, you know, pretty elevated too. It's very easy to see it and don't put yourself in that situation, you know, these are all crimes of opportunity. So if you could take away the opportunity, it's really worth it. I mean, there's nothing more traumatizing than having a gun pointed at you.
Jesse: Ken Wolf is the president and CEO of Ken Wolf Cannabis Consulting. Ken, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Ken: Thank you, Jessie. I really enjoyed our discussion.
Jesse: You can find more cannabis industry reporting at TRICHOMES.com as well as more great shows like this one. If you are a member of the Cannabis community and you have a story you want to share with us, reach out. You can reach the show at High Ground at TRICHOMES.com. Please take a second to subscribe to the podcast and write a review. It really helps others find the show. You can also join the discussion with industry insiders and get your voice heard by joining the community at TRICHOMES.com and following us on all social media The High Ground is produced by David Fortin. I'm Jesse Betend. Thank you for listening.