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Local Security Firms Race to Compete for Medical Marijuana Clinic Contracts

By Mark Schipper | August 3, 2015 5:30am
 Rudy Medrano in his ICE vest around the time of retirement in 2010.
Rudy Medrano in his ICE vest around the time of retirement in 2010.
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Rudy Medrano

CHICAGO — Medical and recreational marijuana might be on the brink of becoming big business for growers and dispensaries, but Rudy Medrano and his company, RM Global Security, see opportunity for the security and enforcement side of operations, too — so he's encouraging Chicago dispensers to shop local.

RM Global has joined the Rogers Park Chamber of Commerce and hopes to partner with dispensaries vying for storefont space in the neighborhood, according to Medrano and chamber president Bill Morton. Medrano said local firms like his five-year-old company should be considered first to protect Chicago’s 13 medical marijuana dispensaries and the 22 cultivation centers across the state. 

 A U.S. Customs publicity photo showing the type of boat Medrano rode during the Cocaine Cowboy era in Florida.
A U.S. Customs publicity photo showing the type of boat Medrano rode during the Cocaine Cowboy era in Florida.
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U.S. Customs archive

“Big companies have already made their presence known, and the dispensary licensees, understandably, they’re in a big hurry, they don’t have time to look at a small company like myself who calls them up or knocks on their door,” Medrano, 61, told DNAinfo Chicago. “They want somebody who has a nice, established presence. Already some of the big boys from Colorado are out here making a major showing in Illinois.”

Medrano’s credentials — which unofficially includes grinding old brick with a mortar and pestle to produce fingerprint powder as a child — include experience in the Columbian cartel wars of the 1980s and the “Cocaine Cowboy” era in Florida. He was previously both a U.S. Customs Service agent and special investigator with Immigration and Naturalization Service, slicing through Caribbean swells in “go-fast” boats and busting big shot dealers during that smugglers-paradise decade, he says. 

Nabbing big-budget security contracts at up-and-coming dispensaries is much more challenging than working with federal agencies, he says.

“It’s usually word of mouth at this level,” says Medrano. “There are no experts unless you come from a marijuana state like California or Colorado, because we don’t have any cultivation/distribution centers in Illinois yet.”

In cities like Chicago and states like Illinois where medical marijuana is a new concept and local security firms have no specialized experience, Medrano says companies like his worry about the steep learning curve and heavy competition from states that have had legal pot for longer.

Cory Hollister, CEO of Colorado-based American Cannabis Consulting, agreed there are several big-footprint national firms “trying to grab leadership roles in the market,” but said there are multiple examples of local security outfits winning contracts to protect dispensaries and cultivation centers.

Hollister said local firms shouldn't count themselves out: “Perhaps that firm will work with a consultant to figure it out, to get a deeper understanding [of the industry], but so long as they’re capable of deploying all the equipment, setting up all the access controls, providing the transportation services; once they understand the proper protocol and procedures, I’ve seen a lot of successful endeavors by local firms.” 

In Colorado, where marijuana was fully legalized last year as a recreational drug, companies began by adopting best security practices from other high-value asset industries like prescription drugs, banks and casinos before organically working in protocols that fit the marijuana industry, according to Hollister.

“I think in these emerging markets — the Northeast, Nevada, Illinois — they’ve had an opportunity to watch what happened in Washington, Colorado and Arizona and are able to really set the benchmarks at that level and force operators to come online with that level of security,” Hollister said.  

 Rudy Medrano with U.S. Customs in Tampa, Fla., in 1988 standing in front of a large shipment of cocaine sealed inside a shipment of timber.
Rudy Medrano with U.S. Customs in Tampa, Fla., in 1988 standing in front of a large shipment of cocaine sealed inside a shipment of timber.
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Rudy Medrano

Bob Kingsley, CEO of 420 Windy City, Rogers Park’s medical marijuana dispensary, confirmed Medrano’s perspective in his own early search for security options. Kingsley said he originally went to one of the country’s top casino security firms before a change to Nevada law prevented anyone protecting casinos from working in both gambling and either medical or recreational marijuana. 

When the law ruled out that option, Kingsley followed a recommendation from the Cook County Sheriffs Department that led him to Keyth Technologies out of suburban Highland Park, which also has offices in Chicago.

In the security plan they've drawn up for 420 Windy City, Kingsley said “every square inch” of the interior will be covered with cameras, while night-vision cameras and motion detectors will be posted outside. That’s in addition to the two armed guards by day and one armed guard overnight required by the city of Chicago.

“I’d say we’ll be a little more impenetrable than Devon Bank, who are our friends,” Kingsley joked. 

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