Surveillance cameras are one of the most common licensing requirements for legal cannabis enterprises.
Marijuana Venture spoke with Ryan Newkirk and Zeke Richey, from Security Camera King and Tech Pro Security, about how business owners can stay compliant with the right surveillance equipment. Newkirk is the company’s sales manager, while Richey is the the go-to guy for the needs of the cannabis industry.
Marijuana Venture: Can you give some simple advice about how business owners can make sure their inspection goes as smooth as possible?
Ryan Newkirk: Be as nice as you can to the inspectors, as they can make or break your business. Be thorough with your plan to keep their questions to a minimum. Understand the law so you can have answers to their statements. Although they are human like you and me, they can interpret the law differently than us. In addition, it is always helpful to have valid points to counter theirs, but make sure you can back up your points. I am not saying argue, but know what they are doing so you aren’t railroaded by them. I have had many of the inspectors try to tell our clients that the cameras need to be UL listed, but in fact the only UL listing for cameras is UL983, which isn’t even acknowledged by OSHA. Recently UL took that listing off its own website. Little things like this can make your inspection go smoother.
Zeke Richey: It’s also a good idea to get the entire building constructed and any modifications to the high-voltage electrical system done before installing the security camera system. The camera system is low voltage and doesn’t require L&I’s attention. Even though our systems meet all code requirements, doing things in this order can reduce points of contention.
MV: Washington businesses went through quite a hassle due to the phrase “IP compatible.” Can you talk a little about that confusion, and what ultimately was determined?
Newkirk: In the beginning, the language in the law was very vague and once again left room for interpretation. After many rereads of the law and conversations, I took it upon myself to make contact with the Liquor Control Board about the situation. I ended up getting in touch with Karen McCall at the Liquor Control Board and explained to her how it really didn’t make any sense that all the cameras needed to be network accessible, independent of the main recorder. I further explained that you would not have any access to the footage from a direct camera connection, and the fact that most routers on the market would have trouble being able to forward the amount of ports necessary to view all the cameras remotely. Whereas, if the recorder alone is accessible, you have full access to the footage and all cameras, meeting the needs the LCB is looking for. The result was that she agreed with me and had the law reworded to better clarify the situation.
Richey: I have had so many I-502 customers complain about companies trying to force them into an expensive IP network camera system due to that discrepancy of “cameras need to be IP compatible.” All “IP compatible” means is that you need to be able to view your cameras over the Internet. This can certainly be done with any system, whether it’s IP network, analog or even the new technology, HD-CVI. This is what prompted Ryan to call the LCB to try and get a definitive answer to help the community get their inspections passed. I am very happy that Karen had the law reworded, and that the community can save money by not having to go the expensive route.
MV: Do you expect future states, such as Oregon and Alaska, to have similar requirements? Will they be able to learn from the unnecessary confusion of Washington’s “IP compatible” mess?
Newkirk: I feel that all states in the future will have requirements like these. My hope is that they will use Washington and Colorado as case studies and learn from their mistakes to help streamline their application and licensing processes. The first to enter a completely new endeavor like this will always have stumbling points, so I would hope that the future states would learn from their predecessors. I have been trying to keep my finger on the pulse of the new states that are looking to come on board. I want to understand their requirements, as I have done with Washington, as well as help with any modifications that may need to done to keep their potential licensees from experiencing the same issues as Washington did.
Richey: I agree with Ryan in my hopes they will learn from their predecessors. It is my understanding that Oregon will be basing their system on Washington State, and Alaska will follow Colorado’s example. Either way, hopefully both states will develop toward a healthy industry much quicker than those who pioneered this movement.
MV: What advice do you give business people looking to find a balance between setting up a quality surveillance system with keeping their costs down?
Newkirk: When it comes to surveillance, there are a ton of different options that are available. My suggestion is to work with someone who knows and understands the laws of your state that can help you customize a system that will meet all the requirements set forth, without trying to oversell you on a system you do not need. We understand that the licensing process is a very expensive process, and the last thing you need is another $50,000 system to have to purchase. The best thing an applicant can do is to get a system that will meet the needs of the LCB to start, then once the money starts coming in spend the money on a system that will give you more benefits than the mandated system. The worst thing an applicant can do is to go cheap on a system just to have the inspector tell you to rip it out, as it might not be compliant. Spend some time, research the companies you are working with to make sure they can get you a compliant system at a good cost.
Richey: Look for a company that will customize a system to not only to meet the needs of the LCB, but also a system that will suit the needs of their environment. There a few ways that the camera system can be customized to suit the applicant’s needs and budget. Look for a company that will provide different quotes that range from the lower resolution/less expensive option up to an IP camera system. This way you can make an informed decision based on your budget and needs.
MV: Are there specific features cannabis growers and retailers should be looking for when shopping for cameras?
Newkirk: Make sure that all of the cabling being supplied from your security camera supplier is UL listed as well as the power supplies for the cameras. L&I is hard on this, especially if the system is in before your final high-voltage inspection. Also, fisheye cameras sound great in theory, but in actuality they are more expensive and less likely to meet the needs of the LCB. You can often cover the same area with two or three cameras at a fraction of the cost of a fisheye camera. Most cameras are not going to give you a 90 degree plus viewing angle, so plan on a couple of cameras per room depending on layout to achieve the coverage required. Make sure your cameras can see at night. Normally, you will want a camera that has IR infrared. This allows a camera to see when there is no light available. You really do not need a varifocal lens as the benefits to your application are very limited and generally have more IR than needed. Remember that a camera will see other camera’s IR signatures, so you don’t need high-powered IR. It can actually be detrimental to a plant if there is too much IR.
Richey: I have found that there are so many different needs of the applicants due to different layouts. It is hard for me to say which specific features to look for. I would say it is more important to look for a company who will look at your layout and give you the best advice to pass your inspection as well as meet the needs if there is ever criminal activity. Also, a company that will provide U.S.-based tech support is important so that if there is ever a problem or if the inspectors are asking you questions, you will want to know that the security camera company will have your back and get you out of a jam.
MV: What are the differences in surveillance systems between indoor and outdoor growers?
Newkirk: With an indoor grow you are typically dealing with a central area where all the different processes are being handled, requiring less cameras, cables and power supplies. On an outdoor grow, most people are going with a large area that has to be protected with a fence. This fence line needs cameras for adequate coverage as well as all other areas where the product will be transported. You will also need more cameras if you are using hoop houses to meet the requirements of the LCB. With an outdoor grow, you can expect to need at least 40% more cameras depending on the size. Now keep in mind some indoor grows that get clever with layouts can cause themselves to need a lot more cameras as well. With an outdoor grow you are going to need outdoor-rated, direct-burial, ETL-listed cabling to stay compliant. You will also generally be dealing with longer camera cable runs, so be prepared to decentralize the power sources for your cameras to accommodate the longer runs, as 12-volt DC power can only run 200-250 feet on a standard 18-gauge cable. There are work-arounds, and a knowledgeable security camera company will be able to advise.
Richey: The wiring and cable is the major difference. L&I can make your inspection process halt if you do not have the correct cable, especially in outdoor grow areas. Remember, before you get an inspection with the LCB, you need to pass with L&I.
MV: Are there any exciting new developments in cameras or surveillance technology that might have an application in the cannabis industry?
Newkirk: There is actually new technology where you can get HD video over coaxial cable for just a little bit more than what a standard LCB compliant system would cost you. Now one thing to keep in mind, if you are recording in HD, you will need a significant more amount of storage to stay compliant. With that being said, you can experience the HD technology and its benefits without needing much more space with the right system as there are work-arounds. With the HD video, growers can look in on their plants and see some of the diseases that start faster and help prevent the spread with the better quality video. Zeke has a lot more information on this than I do, so I will divert to him to help better explain it.
Richey: I have written a few articles detailing what Ryan is touching on as far as keeping an eye on your plants. From cross-pollination to mites to diseases, etc., if you can catch these things early on, you will be able to save your crops and increase your net. Even if you are away from your grow area, you can monitor your plants remotely on any smart device or computer and keep a close eye on your plants.
MV: What markets are you capable of serving? Do you focus on specific states, or can you provide service anywhere in the country?
Newkirk: As a company we can service the entire world as we do now. We ship all over the country and the rest of the world on a daily basis, excluding weekends of course. We do not specifically do installations in all states ourselves, but we do have many installers who buy our equipment and therefore we can recommend these professional in most areas for installation and service. With all of our systems, we can do the majority of the technical stuff remotely which will save the end user from having to be an expert as we are. If anyone has any sort of handiness to him or her, they can install a security system. You need to have problem solving skills, be able to operate a drill/screwdriver, have some basic wiring knowledge and you can do an installation. We have helped 80-year-old grandparents through getting their systems up and running, so we can help almost anybody. Just make sure you are willing to follow some simple instructions.