Shared Fear and Support in the Cannabis Industry
By Melissa Hutsell
Cover photo: Volunteers gathered to paint and board up windows at A Therapeutic Alternative in Sacramento on June 1, 2020. Photo by Manndie Tingler.
“Rioting, robberies, looting, gunfights. You name it. It is happening,” Dr. John Oram, founder of the California-based cannabis company, NUG Wellness, tells the Emerald.
NUG Wellness operates retail locations in Sacramento, and San Leandro, CA.
“We spent all of Monday [June 1st] picking up the pieces and securing the facilities,” Dr. Oram explains via email. Doors are welded shut, razor wire is strung up, and they’ve called for increased guards.
All to no avail, he says. “Monday night saw robbers smash a stolen truck through the side of the building. The incident broke PG&E gas lines that had to be shut off to prevent an explosion.”
Oram says he’s completely beside himself. He feels little to no support from state or local officials. “We are under siege,” he adds.
As a result, “the facility is now completely boarded up, and we allow one customer at a time to come in through one door. At night, multiple armed guards are on-site and are experiencing drive-by shootings,” Oram explains. “Police respond when they can.”
“Professional Criminals Rather Than Looters”
This week businesses like NUG have been targeted by what many believe to be, “professional criminals rather than looters,” according to MJBizDaily.
As a result, several boarded up their windows, and closed retail locations nationwide, including MedMen. A representative of the company confirmed to the Emerald that MedMen closed down all shops in the interest of the safety for employees and customers.
According to reports, L.A. and Bay Area businesses are being hit the hardest by such activity.
The Emerald reached out to several regional dispensaries for confirmation, including Harborside Health Centers, The Apothecarium and The Pottery L.A., but did not hear back by press time.
Debby Goldsberry of Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, explains in a Facebook post that the company’s one location was robbed twice in one week.
According to a separate Instagram post by Magnolia_Oakland, the company believes the robberies and looting are part of an organized effort.
“There has been an organized crime ring targeting dispensaries for years, and with everything going on, as opportunists, they took advantage of the chaos,” the post reads.
View this post on Instagram
First, I want to state that the protestors and demonstrators are not responsible for this nor had any involvement. There has been an organized crime ring targeting dispensaries for years, and with everything going on, as opportunists, they took advantage of the chaos. We fully stand behind and along side our fellow protesters and want to make the clear distinction between what happened here and the important movement and protests happening around the country. With that being said, we will be closed for about a week to rebuild. The most important part is our staff is safe. Weed can be replaced, people cannot. We will need the support of the community and appreciate all those who have reached out. Our entire team will be back soon and stronger than ever. Fellow dispensaries and industry workers, please be safe! -Katie, GM #MagnoliaOakland
“Cannabis is Inextricably Tied to the History of Racism and Oppression”
Cannabis companies throughout the U.S. are experiencing similar attacks.
The Chicago Tribune reports that, “every dispensary in Chicago closed Monday — and some indefinitely — to prevent or clean up from weekend looting and vandalizing […].”
Hillary Peckham, co-founder of Etain Health, explains by email that the company has suffered no damages to their stores in New York City, Kingston, Syracuse or Yonkers at this time. But, “we are aware of several other operators and dispensaries in NYC who have been impacted by looting and vandalism,” she adds. “We offer our sympathies and support to all at this time.”
When asked to comment on the recent events, and the role of the cannabis industry, Peckman points to the War on Drugs.
“Cannabis is inextricably tied to the history of racism and oppression that underpins the current protests,” she explains. “For decades, the prohibition of cannabis has been a tool which unjustly [leads] to disproportionate arrests in Black and Brown communities around the U.S.”
Peckham believes, “it is incumbent on the cannabis industry to continue to push for changes (like the recent decriminalization of marijuana possession in New York) that will help reduce the damage that cannabis prohibition has already done in many communities around the U.S.”
“Cannabis is just one piece in a much larger historical apparatus,” she adds. “However, I think we as a country need to continue pushing for changes that will help structure policing to be a force for positivity rather than a force for division.”
Peckham believes the current protests are sending a strong message that these changes are needed. However, she is “concerned that the signal may be getting muddled by the violence and looting we’ve seen over the past week.”
Liz Jackson-Simpson, chief executive officer at Success Centers, which works to empower marginalized community members through education, employment and art programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, wants cannabis industry members to keep one thing in mind moving forward—equity.
“I would remind folks of what EQUITY is — EQUITY is not diversity, inclusion or equality,” Jackson-Simpson explains. “Equity is ensuring EVERYONE gets what we need to not only survive, but succeed — access to opportunity, networks, resources, and support based on where we are and where we want to go. Then and only then will each of us reach our full potential.”
Answering the Call for Help
In response to a string of damages caused to local businesses, Manndie Tingler, Kimberly Cargile and the team at A Therapeutic Alternative in Sacramento, gathered to provide support to companies in and outside of the cannabis industry.
This week, the group helped secure windows with boards which they painted with messages, including: “One Love,” “Kindness Matters,” and “Riot With Grace.”
Terry Blevins, former police officer and cannabis industry security expert, is also offering his support to industry members via free security consultations.
Terry brought his 35 years of experience in law enforcement to the cannabis industry when he and his wife, Darling, co-founded Amraplex Security in 2017.
During his career, Terry worked as a police officer in Maricopa County in Arizona, and for the Department of Defense in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he trained police commanders in counterterrorism, leadership and drug enforcement.
Terry is a member of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). The organization’s members, which include judges, officers and attorneys, work to educate law enforcement leaders throughout the world about the failure of the War on Drugs. LEAP recently sent a letter to government officials urging them to sign the HEROES Act, which included a banking provision for the cannabis industry.
Security Expert Offers Support
Terry and his wife, Darling, own and operate Armaplex Security in Los Angeles. Armaplex has so far helped more than 70 licensed businesses develop security plans, which include uniformed guards, product transport, alarms and surveillance systems.
Recent events like the vape crisis, banking issues, the pandemic—and now—looting have hit the industry hard, explains Terry.
He and his wife are disheartened. They are stepping up to help. Darling, a licensed security guard, has spent the last couple of nights foregoing sleep in order to protect cannabis businesses, Terry explains.
Though he has limited time to offer for consultation, Terry “wants everyone to know I available to help anyway I can. People are feeling a lot of fear and frustration,” he says, “I might be able to help them dispel some of those fears, and help them create a plan.” Below are Terry’s pointers:
#1 Make sure to remove all cash from the site daily.
#2 Put all cannabis products in a vault or safe.
#3 Move excess products, and high-value products offsite to a secure, licensed distributor. Blevins warns against moving product to unlicensed sites, as these might be as secure.
#4 Prepare for the worst, hope for the best: Licensed operators should talk to their cannabis security professional, and make a plan.