Guards get training to prevent medical marijuana crimes

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Armed guards could be protecting a medical marijuana facility near you. Are they needed and are they being trained?

The ABC27 Investigators were invited to go inside a security training class focused strictly on protecting medical marijuana. The man behind the class says security is a concern in the industry.

“This is the first class we are putting on right now in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Ted Daniels, executive director of the National Cannabis Security Association.

Daniels, a Pennsylvania native, was on the forefront of security at medical marijuana facilities in states like Colorado and California. He knows what can happen if they are not protected properly.

“They have huge targets on their backs,” he said. “On average, every cultivation or dispensary will be robbed or burglarized once every two years and those are just the cold hard stats.”

Which is one of the reasons why Pennsylvania is taking security at medical marijuana facilities seriously.

“We have taken examples of what to do and what not to do from each other state and really created a model program that I believe is going to lead the nation on this issue,” said Eric Hagarty, a special assistant to Gov. Tom Wolf.

Like some other states, Pennsylvania will require dispensaries and growers to track the medicine from seed to sale. The state also requires all facilities to have monitored alarm systems, 24-hour surveillance, and someone checking identification at dispensaries.

“Patients will only be able to get in after receiving a medical marijuana ID card from the Department of Health,” Hagarty said. “Folks aren’t just coming and going. You’ve got to have an ID card and you will be checked at the door before you get in.”

It is not necessarily the medicine that could attract criminals but the money. Since the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, banks will not get involved in the industry, which means they have to deal in cold hard cash.

“Until the federal government resolves some of the issues around banking, this is going to be an issue that sort of plagues medical marijuana programs throughout the country,” Hagarty said.

“It is going to attract a criminal element,” Daniels said.

Which is why Daniels is offering a Cannabis Protection Officer certification course. The course puts armed students through several scenarios including picking up and dropping off products at dispensaries and growers as well as transporting money.

Not everyone who took the 32-hour course passed, but those who did are hoping for a new job opportunity. Many of the students have military and police backgrounds.

“We just need to make sure that we are ready to go when it hits the ground,” said Greg Smith, a student.

“Our job is not to get into run-and-gun battles in the street. That is an absolute last resort. Our job is to get from point A to point B. If we see some kind of danger, we try to prevent it,” said Anthony Phalan, a student/franchisee.

Daniels says other states do not have set standards for training when it comes to armed guards in the medical marijuana industry, which is why he is offering this training in Pennsylvania.

“Now you have guys that are trained and can be a deterrent. They are going to prevent the armed robberies from happening, the assaults from happening,” Daniels said. “I am really hoping that the guidelines set in Pennsylvania set the standard for the industry.”

The Health Department will begin accepting permit applications for growers and dispensaries on Feb. 20. The deadline for submission is March 20. Applicants must provide the department with a detailed security plan. Armed guards are not required under Pennsylvania law.

“I am certainly expecting many applicants to have those types of security features in their plans, but it’s not something that is necessarily required. We want to let applicants pitch to us why their security plan meets our needs,” Hagarty said.

Hagarty says there is a huge interest in the medical marijuana program and they expect to receive at least 1,000 qualified applicants. The Health Department will review the applications and issue up to 12 grower permits and up to 27 dispensary permits in the first round.

When those permits are issued will depend on how long it takes the department to go through the applications. The medical marijuana program is still set to begin next year.

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