Wave of Robberies Targets Cannabis Dispensaries

Typically stocked with large quantities of both cash and cannabis, dispensaries have become a prime target amid a growing trend of smash-and-grab retail robberies.

Full story after the jump.

Cannabis dispensaries and other licensees are still operating under an elevated risk of robbery as a combination of issues including police indifference and a lack of financial services make these companies a prime target for burglars. The issue is highlighted best by a recent string of dispensary robberies up and down the West Coast.

On the weekend of November 20-21 in Oakland, California, a coordinated mob of people traveling in what police described as a “roving band of vehicles” carried out a lengthy spree of smash-and-grab retail robberies. The criminals targeted a variety of cannabis operations, traditional retailers including jewelry and department stores, and pharmacies, CBS SF Bay Area reported.

The weekend was a frightening callback to a last year’s similar crime spree which took place during the nationwide social justice protests following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police. Some Bay Area businesses, like Oakland’s Purple Heart — which was the city’s longest-running cannabis dispensary — have yet to recover from the repeated burglaries.

Amber Sentner, the CEO of Oakland-based MAKR House, a cannabis distribution and infusions company, said at a news conference outside City Hall on Monday that cannabis businesses in her city are “under attack” and police are doing little or nothing to protect them, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Sentner said that the recent crimespree affected more than 25 cannabis licensees and caused more than $5 million in losses for the industry, and called for a two-year cannabis industry tax reprieve from the city of Oakland to help local businesses recover.

“We need more protection. We need more funds and resources to improve security so that we can protect ourselves.” — Amber Sentner, CEO of MAKR House and Co-Founder of Supernova Women, in a statement

The claim that officers sometimes look the other way when it comes to crimes against cannabis firms is hard to verify but has been echoed elsewhere in the industry. Additionally, security footage that surfaced last week appears to show San Francisco police observing — and doing nothing to stop — an in-progress burglary at a cannabis grow site, the Chronicle reports.

The issue is not secluded to California — in Medford, Oregon, police arrested six suspects this week who are accused of burglarizing two cannabis dispensaries and robbing an ATM, KTVL reports.

Willamette Week reported in March, meanwhile, that there were 95 dispensary robberies, burglaries, or lootings in Portland over a 10-month period in 2020. In December, the worst-case scenario played out: a budtender was shot and killed during an armed robbery. During the same time frame, Portland saw just 22 liquor store burglaries and zero liquor store robberies.

Armed robberies are also rampant in the Washington state cannabis industry. On November 18, three men wearing masks held employees at gunpoint and stole cash and cannabis worth a combined $7,000 at Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop in Lake City. During the robbery, one of the suspects hit a customer who attempted to flee in the head with his pistol but nobody was seriously injured — security footage posted on Facebook shows the group’s brutally efficient smash-and-grab tactics.

Meanwhile, just a few hours earlier in Spanaway, Washington, a group of five men robbed a local dispensary at gunpoint. According to The News Tribune, a store employee managed to retrieve a gun during the holdup and fired at the suspected robbers, injuring two of them as they fled the scene. Police later arrested and charged two teenagers who had checked into the hospital with gunshot wounds but the other suspects — as well as the three suspects behind the Lake City robbery — remain at large.

And just last weekend, three masked men robbed an East Wenatchee dispensary at gunpoint. They restrained employees with duct tape before making off with cash and cannabis products, The Wenatchee World reports.

Federal law keeps the cash, and crime, flowing

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent such crime, federal legalization — or at the very least, opening up state-legal cannabis industries to traditional banking services — would be a significant step forward for cannabis worker safety.

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Industry perspectives on this story:

The fact that cannabis businesses are forced by the federal government to operate in cash means that the federal government is directly contributing to this increase in crime. The war on drugs has always created more violence than it has prevented.

Cody Stevenson - CEO, Blue Dream

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