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Let’s be Blunt – Time For A New Critical Infrastructure Sector?
By Luke Bencie and Sami Araboghli

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has identified 16 infrastructure sectors that are critical to the safety, security, and way of life of the United States. Varying from our financial systems and energy grid – to healthcare, transportation, and communication networks, any disruption to these systems would wreak havoc on the American way of life. Thankfully, DHS has crafted resiliency plans to counteract almost any “what-if” scenario that can happen, with the help of federal, state, and local authorities. However, there is one sector that is inevitably becoming a national commodity, something that federal security and financial regulations haven’t been able to accommodate yet. That sector is the multi-billion dollar medical and recreational cannabis industry.

Albeit controversial, sales of marijuana (and cannabis-related products) reached $9.2 billion in 2017. After years of being considered a drug with a high-potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, legalization has so far encompassed 33 states and the District of Columbia. The schedule I drug has become so popular with mainstream users, Forbes predicts that sales will reach $48 billion annually in less than a decade. Consider the following: If you spent $20.00 per second, every day for three years, it would add up roughly to the amount of cannabis sold in the State of California alone in 2018 – over $2.5 billion and mostly transacted in cash. With amounts like this in prospect, why wouldn’t people want to get in on the action?

Despite the glowing financial forecast, there remains a dark side to the cannabis industry. The not-so-dirty secret is the tremendous security threat posed to marijuana cultivation facilities, point-of-sale dispensaries and cannabis – and cash handling – transportation operations. Unlike other retail locations that sell, for example, expensive jewelry, antiques or fine art, most cannabis consumers prefer to use cash for their transactions (even though dealers verify their identities prior to purchase). Couple the influx of cash with the fact that most banks refuse to do business with the cannabis industry, and you end up with facilities sitting on excess stacks of paper currency. The situation creates all kinds of security issues not faced by other businesses.

Make no mistake, this is still the narcotics business… and narcotics draw criminal activity like a moth to a flame.

Still, there’s no clear guideline for the assurance of safety and security for all who are involved in the medical or recreational cannabis industry, forcing companies to improvise, adapt, and overcome the barriers that are put in place. Its vexed legal status has sparked debate between federal and state authorities, resulting in a complex business structure. Since cannabis is still not legal federally, there are still many hurdles that the industry must jump over to prevent the Pandora’s box of security nightmares from ever opening.

With more than half of the states in the U.S. having already legalized marijuana for medical use (and a handful of those states legalizing recreational use as well), it’s not only inevitable but imperative that the federal government accept the reality of its growing importance and acceptance in society – and identifying the whole industry as a critical infrastructure sector. This is a necessary first step in protecting large-scale cultivation centers and distribution outlets. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should recognize – with proper input from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – that federal security guidelines should be enacted to ensure that proper safety and protection for employees, customers, product and facilities.

Establishing a new critical infrastructure sector is easier said than done. Doing so would require much insight into its resiliency and response plans, as well as identifying and mitigating its encompassed risks. Interestingly enough, a methodology already exists for exactly that purpose – and its been the go-to threat and vulnerability assessment method for security professionals for decades – and its called CARVER.

The CARVER Target Analysis and Vulnerability Assessment Methodology is a system that uses specific procedures, both qualitative and quantitative in nature, to interpret and determine the Probability of Attack from an adversary against critical assets and/or key resources. Originally developed by the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II, CARVER was an offensive targeting tool used to determine where bomber pilots should most effectively drop their munitions on enemy targets.

About the Authors

Luke Bencie is the Managing Director of Security Management International. He has provided security consulting to dozens of cannabis cultivation centers and dispensaries in the U.S. and abroad.

Sami Araboghli is a Junior Associate at Security Management International.


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