The Legalization of Marijuana and the Security Industry2016-04-29T21:02:14-04:00

Marianna A. Perry, M.S., CPP
Lawrence J. Fennelly, CPOI, CSSI, CHL-III 

Marijuana – the Pros and Cons  

Marijuana is the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa.  The plant contains the mind-altering chemical, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  Extracts with high amounts of THC can also be made from the cannabis plant.[1]  The THC in marijuana is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects because it acts much like the cannabinoid chemicals made naturally by the human body.  The cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in the areas of the brain associated with thinking, pleasure, coordination and time perception. The THC in marijuana attaches to these receptors and activates them and affects a person's memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception.[2]

Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in the United States, behind alcohol and tobacco, according to the marijuana reform group NORML, and they state that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco because approximately 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning and more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco use.  By comparison, marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose.[3]  The organization supports a legally controlled market for marijuana where consumers can buy marijuana for recreational use from a safe legal source.

The legalization of marijuana—whether it is for medical use or recreational use is a controversial subject.  There are pros and cons on both sides of the argument and each side cites research data supporting their stance on the subject that the other calls “low quality.”  Proponents say that marijuana helps and economy and the job market and others say that it causes more crime and puts people at risk.  The bottom line is that marijuana use can be good or bad, depending upon who you ask.  For these reasons, the debate over marijuana continues.

Should Marijuana be Legal for Medicinal and/or Recreational Purposes?

     Voters in several states across the nation have been asked to decide whether marijuana should be legal for use as a medicine, but the National Cancer Institute states that marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for over 3,000 years.[4]   Voters made their decisions about the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes on the basis of medical anecdotes, beliefs about the dangers of illicit drugs, and a smattering of inconclusive science. In order to help policymakers and the public make better-informed decisions, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review the scientific evidence and assess the potential health benefits and risks of marijuana.

“The IOM report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, released in March 1999, found that the THC in marijuana is potentially effective in treating pain, nausea and vomiting and AIDS-related loss of appetite.  They add that additional research involving clinical trials need to be conducted.  The report also states that the therapeutic effects of smoked marijuana are modest and there may be medicines that are more effective.  The report acknowledges that there are some patients that do not respond well to other medications they may “have no effective alternative to smoking marijuana.”[5]

The IOM report stated the following findings:

"The profile of cannabinoid drug effects suggests that they are promising for treating        wasting syndrome in AIDS patients. Nausea, appetite loss, pain, and anxiety are all     afflictions of wasting,             and all can be mitigated by marijuana. Although some medications             are more effective than marijuana for these problems, they are not equally effective             in all patients. A rapid-onset (that is, acting within minutes) delivery system should be         developed and tested in such patients. Smoking marijuana is not recommended.     The      long-term harm caused by smoking marijuana makes it a poor drug delivery    system, particularly for patients with chronic illnesses. Terminal cancer patients      pose                 different issues. For those patients the medical harm associated with smoking is of     little consequence. For terminal patients suffering debilitating pain or nausea and   for             whom all indicated     medications have failed to      provide relief, the medical      benefits of smoked marijuana might outweigh the harm.”[6]

Most research studies on both sides of the issue do agree that smoked marijuana is not a completely safe substance. It is a drug that when used, can produce a variety of effects. However, except for the harm associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range tolerated for other medications.  The OEM has cautiously endorsed the medical use of marijuana, but smoked marijuana is a crude way to deliver THC because it also delivers harmful substances.  Based on this information it does appear as though marijuana does have medical value, but its therapeutic components must be used in conjunction with conventional therapy to be safe and useful.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved smoked marijuana as a safe and effective drug, but recognizes that patients are looking for treatment options for some conditions such as nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.  Even though the FDA has not approved botanical marijuana because they have not found it safe and effective, they do however; recognize the interest in using marijuana for medicinal purposes.[7]  The FDA has approved the drug, Dronabinol, which is a medicine made from THC, a light yellow resinous oil which is extracted from the marijuana plant.[8]  It is used to treat or prevent the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy to increase the appetites of patients with AIDS.

The American Lung Association (ALA) does encourage continued research into the benefits, risks and safety of marijuana use for medicinal purposes.  They recommend that any patient who is considering marijuana for medicinal purposes make an informed decision by consulting with their doctor and also consider other methods of administration other than smoking.[9]

In 2014, Colorado was the first state to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use to anyone age 21 or older.  Marijuana sold at retail stores carries a 25% state tax, plus the Colorado state sales tax of 2.9%, which makes recreational marijuana one of the most heavily taxed consumer products in Colorado. [10]

As of June 19, 2015, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently had laws legalizing marijuana use in some form.  Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.  Many states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, while others have passed medical marijuana laws allowing for limited use.  Some medical marijuana laws are broader than others and list specific medical conditions that allow for treatment, but this varies from state to state.  There are some states that have passed laws allowing residents to possess cannabis oil if they suffer from certain medical illnesses.  For example, Virginia has laws that allow the possession of marijuana as long as the individual has a prescription from a doctor.  Federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana, so basically the state laws are not valid.  This means that doctors can write a recommendation for medical marijuana, but not a prescription.[11]  While possession, sale and consumption of marijuana remain illegal at the federal level, it is permitted for recreational use in four US states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, plus the US capital, Washington.[12]

It is common knowledge that smoke is harmful to lung health. It doesn’t matter whether the smoke is from burning wood, tobacco or marijuana because toxins and carcinogens are released from combustion.  Smoke from marijuana combustion has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke.  Because marijuana smokers tend to inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than cigarette smokers, there is greater exposure.  Marijuana smoke injures the cell lining of the large airways and many marijuana smokers have symptoms such as a chronic cough, phlegm production, wheezing and acute bronchitis.[13]

Smoking marijuana affects the immune system and the body's ability to fight disease, especially for individuals with weakened immune systems or those taking immunosuppressive drugs.  Smoking marijuana also kills the cells in the lungs that help remove dust and germs which may lead to an increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections.[14]

The Short-Term Effects of Marijuana

The THC in marijuana passes from the lungs into the bloodstream and stimulates the receptors in the parts of the brain.  This causes the "high" that users feel. Other effects include:

  • Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • Altered sense of time
  • Changes in mood
  • Impaired body movement
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory

The Long-Term Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana also affects brain development. When teenagers use marijuana, it may permanently affect their thinking, memory and learning functions.[15]

Long-term marijuana use has also been linked to mental illnesses and mental health problems, such as:

  • Temporary hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they are not
  • Temporary paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • Worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia(a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts among teens[16]

Is marijuana addictive?

Marijuana can be addictive. Research suggests that about 1 in 11 users becomes addicted to marijuana (Anthony, 1994; Lopez-Quintero 2011).This number increases among those who start as teens (to about 17 percent, or 1 in 6) (Anthony, 2006) and among people who use marijuana daily (to 25-50 percent) (Hall & Pacula, 2003).[17]

Security for Marijuana Farms and Dispensaries

For those who either cultivate or sell marijuana, it is important that they know how to protect their investment – equipment, inventory, products and above all, their employees.  The marijuana industry certainly comes with its own security challenges.

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington introduced a new element for the cannabis industry in the United States – effective security that “fits” with this industry.   Medicinal marijuana is legal in 23 states, but is still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the U.S. government which makes growing and selling marijuana illegal under federal law.  This elevates the security situation for marijuana farms and dispensaries to a new level because many banks are reluctant to accept money that is generated from the sale of marijuana, so this has forced the industry to be an all-cash business.[18]    This has led to the development of “specialty” security companies for a niche market.  Not only do these “specialty” security companies protect product and cash on hand, they are also responsible for securing the perimeter of the property, access control in and out of areas and buildings, monitoring video surveillance and response, monitoring the intrusion detection systems and providing on-going consulting services, they have to constantly monitor the temperature and lighting within the growing facilities.  It is important that marijuana farms and dispensaries consider all possible threats, have state-of-the-art technology as a part of their security master plans and that the security operation is efficient and either minimizes or eliminates any security vulnerability.

CNN reports that there are now big-box stores, named “weGrow,” that offer marijuana growing equipment, supplies and services (including recommendations for security) and they are being called, the “Walmart of Weed.”[19]  None of the “weGrow” stores actually sell marijuana, but they advertise that their services and products are designed especially for cultivating marijuana.  This is a perfect example of the premise, supply and demand.

“weGrow” also offers a “Dispensary Security Plan” that covers facility as well as operational security that is touted as something that “ . . . every dispensary or cultivation owner must have!  Essential document for anyone that plans to own a marijuana dispensary.”  It includes a sample security plan and advertises that custom plans are also available.  The security plans are designed to “minimize security exposure and prevent breaches before they even occur.   However, in the event that preventative measures fail, the Operational Security Plan is designed to quickly observe, monitor, protect, counter and report any situations that do occur.”[20]

The Facility Security Plan includes:

  • Location and Site Security
  • Secured Employee Parking
  • Around the Clock Coverage
  • Security Surveillance Systems (CCTV)
  • Maintenance of Security Systems
  • Access Control / Ingress & Egress
  • Perimeter Security
  • Product Security
  • Fire Alarm System
  • Intrusion Alarm System

The Operational Security Plan includes:

  • Security Threats
  • Transactional Security
  • Delivery Security
  • Hazardous Weather
  • Human Resource Policies
  • Employee Security Training
  • Inventory Control
  • Guest, Media & Visitor Procedures
  • Neighborhood Involvement
  • Emergency Response
  • Contingency Planning[21]

The “specialty” security companies are meeting the needs of the marijuana industry because some dispensary owners have stated that ADT, the largest security provider in the nation has dropped or is refusing to accept customers in the marijuana industry.  ADT told CNNMoney it won't "sell security services to businesses engaged in the marijuana industry because it is still illegal under federal law."[22]

Owners in the marijuana cultivation and dispensary business state that they are concerned not only with thieves, but also with federal authorities who are eager to see them put out of business.[23]

With demand for security services to protect the marijuana industry, there is certainly not a shortage of opportunities for security professionals

[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

[2] http://www.livescience.com/24553-what-is-thc.html

2 http://norml.org

[4] http://www.livescience.com/24553-what-is-thc.html

[5] http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=255

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm421163.htm

[8] http://www.livescience.com/24553-what-is-thc.html

[9] http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/marijuana-and-lung-health.html

[10] http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/28/us/10-things-colorado-recreational-marijuana/

[11] http://www.governing.com/gov-data/state-marijuana-laws-map-medical-recreational.html

[12] http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/biz/archives/2016/03/06/2003640899

[13] Ibid.

[14] http://www.lung.org

[15] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] http://www.securityinfowatch.com/article/11601437/booming-cannabis-industry-presents-wealth-of-opportunities-to-security-system-installers-manufacturers

[19] http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/05/31/arizona.marijuana.superstore/index.html?iref=allsearch

[20]http://wegrowstore.com/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=35&vmcchk=1&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=262

[21] Ibid.

[22] http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/29/smallbusiness/marijuana-security/

[23] Ibid.