Grow? Process? Deliver? Dispense? There are many ways to profit from the exploding commercial cannabis market, but meeting security requirements is a significant hurdle for any business model. Like alcoholic beverages, the production, sale, and distribution of marijuana is highly regulated and different in each state. Unlike the alcohol industry, everyone involved with legalized cannabis is treading new ground. Many security regulations remain works in progress and are poorly defined. Nonetheless, failure to comply with them can result in a loss of license, business closure, hefty fines, and even jail time.

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 business, cannabis operators must take theft far more seriously.

Rules for how licensed operators must protect their product and employees vary by state. Most dictate strict video surveillance technology specifications, including camera resolution, device placement, storage requirements, and more. By contrast, the regulations are uniformly vague regarding access control technology. Michigan, typical of most states 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 treads the furthest in specifying technology. It requires the use of electronic door locks.

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 marijuana products and facilities be tightly managed and access logs kept. 

Lacking definitive standards within their own fledgling industry, cannabis operators can turn to long-established, tightly regulated, high-security sectors, like banking and pharmaceutical manufacturing, for inspiration on ways to best implement access control. One such option to harden security, simplify system management and comply with access documentation requirements is biometric identity solutions. Biometrics may be used alone, in place of cards, fobs, or mobile credentials, or as part of a dual authentication system. Because surveillance cameras are required throughout cannabis facilities, integration with facial recognition is the most cost-effective option. Cameras already in place at critical access points can often perform double-duty, assisting with identity verification.

When faces are used for authentication as part of an opt-in access control application, today's facial recognition software can identify enrollees, regardless of skin color. In regards to privacy, many of today’s advanced systems don't store an image of the face, but rather hold an encrypted digital code that represents each face, generated by proprietary algorithms within the software. There is no way to reconstruct the face or recognize an individual's identity, should access to the stored code be compromised. When combined with a second form of authentication, facial identity creates an almost impenetrable barrier for unauthorized personnel attempting to use a lost or stolen card or PIN code to access restricted areas.

In some cases, biometric modalities can be deployed alone, eliminating the need for cards or fobs. For example, the probability that an iris-matching solution presents a false match is less than one in one million. Specialized readers can be mounted anywhere electronic locking mechanisms and traditional readers can be installed, while offering the advantage of a completely hands-free experience for workers. Iris readers are ideal for warehouse entrances and storage units where marijuana is regularly transported in and out. 

Touch-free, card-free access is also desirable in retail spaces, where product may be in locked displays. If workers are wearing gloves to handle product, iris readers can provide a seamless experience as they unlock cases and cabinets to assist customers.    

For transporting marijuana between grow farms, processing facilities and dispensaries, biometrics can be deployed throughout the distribution chain. Shipping ports have long used biometrics to verify the identity of truck drivers before releasing cargo to them. The same could be done for drivers entrusted with truckloads of cannabis. Statewide biometric databases of vetted, authorized drivers could simplify the process of safely releasing inventory for transport. In addition to identify verification, securing the supply chain can create a clear chain of custody in the event of inventory shrinkage.

One of the clearly specified requirements for cannabis operators is the documentation of who has access to product and when. 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 provide an accounting of all personnel with access to restricted areas, as well as time-stamped documentation of their “ins” and “outs.” 

Those entering the cannabis industry must navigate how to comply with demanding expectations for security with limited direction on how to best implement access control. Biometric identity technology can be a tool to help businesses reduce the risk of theft, simplify system management, automate procedures and reporting required for regulatory compliance, and deliver a more convenient, seamless user experience.