Small Business

Searching for the Ben & Jerry's of the cannabis industry

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As entrepreneurs gather in Las Vegas for the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo, the chase is on for the next great cannabis business.

Just ask Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

"My hope would be that this industry is not taken over by existing big businesses, but that the businesses here remain independent, that they become the big businesses of tomorrow," Cohen told CNBC.

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Cannabis start-ups already are jockeying for market share and coming up with innovative business models.

Tactical Security, a Chicago-based security company, is getting into the business of delivery cannabis products in the fast-growing industry.
Harriet Taylor | CNBC

A few years ago, for example, Chicago-based Tactical Security was escorting exhibitors at pawn and antique shows, with items like rare coins in their armored cars.

The security company today is embarking on a new venture, which may be a bit more risky and high profile. It's providing security to the rapidly growing cannabis industry.

Joel Brumlik, founder of Tactical Security, said there needs to be a higher level of safety and security for workers and entrepreneurs within the industry because there's a lot of cash and product on hand. Marijuana entrepreneurs struggle to find banks willing to work with them since they are selling a product that is still deemed illegal by the federal government, despite four states and Washington, D.C., legalizing recreational use, and 23 states approving the drug for medicinal use.

"We believe every cannabis patient and worker is entitled to the highest level of safety and security," Brumlik said. "One of the issues that plagues any state looking at legalization is security."

Marijuana edibles under fire
Marijuana edibles under fire

The company provides highly trained security guards at businesses and has begun working with companies in Illinois, where medicinal marijuana is legal, to layout security plans for new businesses. After licenses are awarded, Tactical will provide screening of sites for marijuana shops. He said the company is prepared to operate nationwide.

"We believe there needs to be integrity from the time you turn the first shovel, until the facility is up and running," he said.

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For transportation, Tactical has nondescript armored cars, driven by former military and law enforcement veterans.

"The most inherent problem you will have in the industry is regular pickups and deposits from cultivation centers, and then obviously taking the cash from the dispensaries and getting it to a safe secure location," he said.

Entrepreneurs gathered in Las Vegas for the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in November 2014.
Harriet Taylor | CNBC

John Sullivan, president and chief of First Security Bank of Nevada, said his bank is willing to begin working with start-ups within the state that have been approved by regulators. Having a lot of cash in an entrepreneur's home or business is simply a public safety issue.

"We do not want businesses accumulating large amounts of currency at a business location or at an owner's residence," Sullivan said. "That would be a target for criminal activity."

That said, Sullivan predicted that community banks will likely be on board well ahead of large banks, until federal laws change.

Brumlik agreed, saying the government will have to eventually realize that the current banking situation for the growing cannabis industry is simply "ridiculous."

"They will realize they need regulations on a national level, to allow these businesses—because they are being taxed—to deposit money in a traditional way," he said.

With additional reporting by CNBC's Harriet Taylor