Living the Dream?

Working security for an Arkansas dispensary helps open the eyes of a former police officer to medical marijuana

When I tell my friends and fellow law enforcement officers about a new security venue that I have, it is often met with a lot of skepticism and bewilderment.

That I had even been considered to provide security in a field that I viewed as taboo for my 40-plus years of law enforcement was quite surprising. My knowledge of the “green leafy substance” was limited to what I had learned through my law enforcement experience and my perception of an illegal drug. Yet, Arkansas, like dozens of other states, has committed to providing medical marijuana to its citizens through Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment 98, approved by voters in 2016.

Gates McKnight, director of operations for the Purspirit Cannabis Company in Fayetteville, Arkansas, asked me if my company would bid on providing security services to his new company. I accepted this challenge with a lot of skepticism, and my initial contract was only three months to allow me a quick out if I did not like what I saw.

From my law enforcement perspective, the use of marijuana was often connected with rebellion and unorthodox lifestyles and, later in my career, associated with organized crime.

But later in my law enforcement experience, marijuana became a much lesser concern. Dangerous drugs such as methamphetamine and opioids became our focus. Taking down drug labs, cocaine seizures and the reemergence of seriously addictive drugs became more of a priority. Prescription medication addiction had become a major problem, both from the health point of view and the perspective of law enforcement.

So, with this type of mental background, I accepted a job that now put me in a position of protecting what I once considered a “bad” product.

Purspirit has been changing people’s perceptions about medical cannabis, including Denny Upton, who provides security for the Arkansas dispensary. All photos courtesy Purspirit Cannabis Company.

Two things influenced my decision.

First, Arkansas passed a constitutional amendment making medical marijuana legal to purchase and possess; as a police officer, I took an oath of office that I would support and defend the constitution of Arkansas and enforce the laws of the state. Regardless of my personal thoughts, I accepted the fact that medical marijuana was legal.

Second, I had lost two close relatives to opioid addiction. Both had become addicted to pain pills and lost control of their lives. So, I approached my new association with Purspirit Cannabis Company with a mixture of emotions and preconceptions.

Since this was a new field for security and law enforcement, there was not much training or educational material dealing with marijuana dispensaries. I found a lot of information out there, but most dealt with personal ideas and dealing with criminal elements like robbery and thefts.

Using my own experience and skills, I developed a security program for Purspirit Cannabis Company focused on the safety of employees and customers, asset protection including the installation of security cameras and the development of guidelines for dealing with products and cash and a focus on compliance.

But I also saw something new about this medical marijuana stuff, and it surprised me. I was introduced as the “security guy” to a group of young, intelligent, professionals who were truly committed to selling a product they believe will help people. I was pleasantly surprised at their attitude and knowledge and the way they dealt with the patients.

Purspirit Cannabis Company in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

I found that there was a lot more to that green leafy substance than just a drug that got people high. I learned the differences in flower, tinctures and edibles and the difference between THC and CBD and how each different product has its place in patient needs.

But most importantly, I learned from the patients who came into the dispensary and why they were there. I spoke with many of the people to hear about their serious health concerns and how marijuana helps them.

I was surprised at our patients’ varied backgrounds: the older age groups, military veterans and business professionals who readily admitted that they had been secretly using marijuana as a health benefit for years, only now able to legally buy it and possess it; new patients who have never used marijuana in their life told me their regular medical doctor suggested it as an alternative to prescription medication.

With this new knowledge came a better understanding on my part. I began to understand this business from a patient point of view.

So, where am I at this point in my new security program? Let me start by saying I do not use marijuana or THC products and have no desire or need to do so. I do not regret my law enforcement decisions involving arrests or confiscating marijuana, because in my time, all marijuana was illegal.

Today, I accept that the law allows the sale and possession of legal, medical marijuana. But I am not an advocate of recreational marijuana or further relaxation of marijuana laws. I still think there are some inherent problems with the use of marijuana, just as there are problems with the use of alcohol. But, hey, I didn’t accept the medical marijuana issue when it first was presented either.

However, I recognize the actual benefits and needs of people who use medical marijuana. If it helps people deal with pain and chronic health issues, then I wholly support the program.

And I think I will ask for a contract extension for our security services.


Denny Upton is a retired law enforcement officer with more than 40 years of experience. He spent 23 years with the Springdale Arkansas Police Department, where he served as a patrol officer, juvenile officer, criminal investigator, chief of detectives and patrol supervisor. Since leaving Springdale, he worked with various departments as chief of police, criminal investigator and as a deputy U.S. marshal. Since leaving the public sector, he and his son-in-law began a private security company in Arkansas, providing security officers for numerous venues in Northwest Arkansas.

Purspirit Cannabis Company is located in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In November 2019, it became the 11th medical marijuana dispensary to open in Arkansas. The company is owned by Valentine Holdings LLC and can be contacted at


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