Riding shotgun on a truck full of cash and cannabis didnt make the list of obvious career choices for Chad Holtman, 28, a Portland resident and U.S. Army veteran.
Then he met an employee of CannaGuard Security, a Beaverton firm that provides transportation, secure storage and electronic security services to marijuana businesses in Oregon and Washington. CEO Noah Stokes made a point of hiring military veterans to staff his company, particularly veterans like Holtman, a former airborne infantryman who said he saw combat during a year in eastern Afghanistan.
I decided on a whim to go to (the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training), specifically for the cannabis industry. That was the extent of my plan, Holtman said. CannaGuard was, strangely, this perfect fit for what I was imagining.
Guards like Holtman are a must for Oregons marijuana industry. Left largely without access to banks, the majority of which decline to provide accounts to marijuana businesses, those firms deal mostly in cash. They also carry large amounts of marijuana from farms to warehouses to retail dispensaries in ordinary, nondescript vehicles, potential targets for would-be robbers or temptation for unscrupulous employees.
Its hard to trust a random employee with 20, 30, 50 pounds of cannabis, said Aviv Hadar, co-founder of Oregrown Industries Inc., a Bend-based marijuana business. What if, for gods sake, someone saw you leaving the campus. I understand the need for customized trucks and security here. Its a major security risk transporting cash from here to Salem.
Oregrown is the first Central Oregon client of CannaGuards secure transport service, which Stokes unveiled Friday. Mainstream courier companies will not serve marijuana businesses for a number of reasons, he said. His is the first business in Oregon providing transport and bulk storage services for marijuana clients, Stokes said.
This month, he takes delivery of three Ford delivery vans, customized with about $85,000 in improvements. Each van is fitted with an armored cab, bullet-proof glass and an interior partition filled with bank-style safety-deposit boxes. The vans also come equipped with electronic GPS tracking and alert software, including tracking devices disguised as cash or marijuana. The also have foggers that coat assailants with a plant-based substance with a specific DNA that authorities may use later for identification purposes, Stokes said.
Were trying to take away the need for violence in these scenarios, he said.
Nonetheless, the two-member crew aboard the van is armed, he said, and, in some cases, experienced in the use of deadly force. He said Oregon law requires that security personnel be licensed and trained to carry firearms, meaning a 36-hour course through the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the police academy. Stokes prefers to hire military veterans, preferably those with combat experience or in handling firearms.
Were not interested in hiring someone who worked for Best Buy and got the 40-hour training at DPSST, he said. Our transport officers, on the back of their bulletproof vests it says asset protection. They are not security guards. Theyre tactically trained to do counter-surveillance and have counter-measures in place. They will more commonly defeat a threat before it identifies itself.
Employees may not be under the influence of marijuana, but theyre not tested prior to employment, Stokes said. Stokes and Holtman said they both use marijuana for medicinal purposes, but not on a frequent basis.
It doesnt hurt anybody, and it detracts from alcohol use, Holtman said.
He said he left the military in 2014, after nearly five years, ready for the next chapter in life. While taking the state firearms licensing course, he met the CannaGuard employee, which turned into a referral, and Holtman, at the time a student helicopter pilot, entered the security realm. Now hes a supervisor aboard a transport van and at the 15,500-square-foot building in Portland that Stokes has turned into a vault for cash and marijuana. Stokes expects to operate it as a distribution center for marijuana the way the Oregon Liquor Control Commission operates its liquor warehouse in Milwaukie.
A big piece of this business is our secure storage, he said. It is a distribution hub for the state.
Stokes said hes building a business model he can employ in California, where voters approved recreational marijuana in Tuesdays election. He foresees expanding the business into other states where marijuana is legal. Before entering the transport and storage business, Stokes worked in mainstream security at OmniGuard, installing high-tech security measures like surveillance and remote response systems. He said his banks several times closed his accounts after learning he provided the same services to marijuana businesses.
The cash-only operation is a burden the OLCC wants to see lifted, said Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the OLCC Recreational Marijuana Program. The Legislature this year approved the OLCC sharing its licensing data to assure banks that marijuana licensees comply with Oregon security requirements, he said. The U.S. Department of Justice under President Barack Obama permitted banks to do business with marijuana clients in states that legalized the drug, but only under tight regulation.
Few banks took the opportunity. Just one financial institution in Oregon, Maps Credit Union, in Salem, provides account services for marijuana businesses. A credit union executive did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
The commission supports finding a solution to the banking problem, Pettinger said Thursday. And its working with state lawmakers as well as our federal delegation to be supportive of that. Thats an issue that has the potential to have greater ramifications, unintended consequences in the industry.