WA cannabis businesses plead for protections from robberies

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This year, 4/20 comes as Washington cannabis-industry leaders say crimes against their business are out of control.

Shop owners are dealing with a seemingly never ending rash of crash-and-grab robberies.

And earlier this month, a security guard was kidnapped from a marijuana production facility – so seven suspects could raid it.

For an industry that rakes in millions of dollars for our state healthcare programs and the general fund, leaders and business owners say they deserve more protection. 

“The tax revenue that we produce across the state should be used in some sort of a security system, potentially cannabis related, a cannabis division for keeping our locations secure,” suggested Diane Walter, owner of Have a Heart Cannabis. “Every time we’re robbed it robs the state as well and this industry isn’t going anywhere.”

Walter has several stores across Washington that have been hit this year. 

We tried digging into the numbers, and for something that happens so often, we were surprised to see there’s not an official state agency tracking the problem. Instead, it’s on the pot shops themselves. 

Uncle Ike’s in Seattle runs this tracker. It shows around 140 instances of shops being smashed into with a stolen car, or robbed at gunpoint last year. There have been 16 robberies and smash and grabs so far this year, as well as an attempted bombing.

Pot shops are targeted because they have more cash on hand than other kinds of stores. 

They want to see congress adopt the SAFER Banking Act, which would expand access to traditional banking and allow them to use cards. Senator Maria Cantwell signed on to the act, but there hasn’t been any progress made on the bill since a hearing back in December. We reached out to her office about the future of the bill and are waiting to hear back. 

And in Washington, Senate Bill 6133 would have aligned the penalty for robbing a pot shop to robbing a pharmacy, with a year behind bars. 

“We are baselined at almost zero compared to any other business in Washington state,” explained Austin Bren, standing in front of Forbidden Cannabis Club in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood amid shards of glass and a broken door frame. Bren helped open the shop. 

Security cameras at Forbidden Cannabis Club had caught suspects casing out the business just days before. They contacted police and hired security, but it still wasn’t enough to stop thieves from stealing a Hyndai and using it as a battering ram to inflict thousands of dollars in damage, and take off with thousands more in product, all in the span of about three minutes. 

“Getting everyone on the same page with cannabis and understanding that we’re a business, I have three children at home, I pay my bills with this job, it’s not just a weekend thing, we put a lot of time and effort into this thing,” Bren said. 

Two years ago, King County rolled out a cannabis safety task force. FOX 13 Seattle reached out to them to see if it’s helped cut down on crime, but our request wasn’t returned.  

More than 11,000 Washingtonians work for a cannabis related business, according to the Washington Cannabusiness Association. Until something can change to make the industry more secure, their safety is in question. 

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