As the number of licensed dispensaries increases throughout the country, robbers are targeting cannabis companies.
The California Bay Area is ground zero for the cannabis industry. The region is home to the modern medical cannabis movement in America, explains Oakland North. It also hosts a concentration of dispensaries, cultivators, and more. Recently, however, Bay Area cities including Oakland have been hot spots for cannabis-related robberies within the past few years.
Robbers hit Magnolia Wellness, a dispensary in Oakland, twice in one week last summer.
Many cannabis companies were robbed after the uprising in response to the May 25th, 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, reports Star Tribune. Since then, protesters flooded streets across the country, marching against police brutality.
Many business owners believe lootings were the work of organized criminals, not protestors. According to an Instagram post, a representative with Magnolia Wellness said the company thought the robberies were part of an organized effort, Emerald reported in May 2020. “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.
The Database Debacle
Many assume that the robbers found their targets by searching public databases, reports SFGate. Officials made cannabis licensing records available publicly, accessible to anyone who desired the information.
In response to the spike in robberies, officials removed records on cannabis businesses from public view, according to WeedWeek.
But the damage was already done. In total, looters stole about $2 million dollars from Magnolia Wellness alone, explains THC Net. Furthermore, robbers targeted five other dispensaries the same night as Magnolia.
Officials did not warn business owners in the city about potential crimes happening that night. Some owners took it upon themselves to warn other operators using social media.
In response to the robberies, on June 16th, 2020, celebrities such as Sistah Iminah, Yulomouth of Luniz, and more artists and entertainers got together to raise money not only for Black Lives Matter, but also for the Bay Area dispensaries that have suffered losses due to looters, reported KQED.
Oakland Caravan Robberies
Shortly after the fundraiser, in the early morning of November 4th, 2020, the night after the U.S. presidential election, robbers hit an additional eight licensed and unlicensed cannabis businesses yet again.
Reports associated many of the break-ins with caravans. Multiple vehicles surrounded buildings, and robbers outnumbered security, reports Oakland Landslide.
However, cannabis companies were not the only businesses to targeted.
On election night roughly 10-15 cars pulled up to rob a Best Buy; about 30-40 people showed up ready to rob a Starbucks; and a vehicle drove through the front entrance of Only Good Weed. At the site of this dispensary, there were about 50 cars outside the business, with people attacking the store, and even injuring security staff, explains FOX KTUV.
In total, there were roughly 40-100 caravans of cars that traveled throughout Oakland and neighboring cities looting stores that night.
A few deaths were reported from some of these violent robberies. For example, in June 2020, an employee was killed in gunfire associated with an armed robbery of a cannabis business late one evening in Oakland, reports CBS SF Bay Area.
Why is This Happening?
Emerald spoke with Oakland resident Adolph Ward to gain more knowledge about the robberies. Ward is chair of the Oakland Cannabis Business Council and the Statewide Equity Alliance, CEO of Zipp Delivery, and Managing Editor here at Emerald.
He explained that the increase in robberies was in part due to the civil unrest that occurred after George Floyd’s death. Protests distracted law enforcement — and some people took that as an opportunity.
For example, owner Keith Stephenson of Oakland’s Purple Heart dispensary, watched through security cameras as criminals destroyed his pride and joy. Stephenson called police. But they placed him on hold for two hours. He was left heart-broken as he watched the acts unfold with no way to stop it, explains Gangjapreneur.
Since the election night robberies, Oakland police have been cautiously warning cannabis businesses in and around the city about possible threats. For instance, during the trial of Floyd’s murderer, Derek Chauvin, police notified businesses about potential robberies. They told them to prepare and hire extra security.
Similarly, the city of Portland, Oregon has seen robberies increase within the cannabis industry. One incident even resulted in the death of a budtender, Michael Arthur. Assailants shot Arthur over a few jars of cannabis and a tip jar with less than $20 inside, explains Willamette Week.
The Portland cannabis industry has lost more than half of million dollars due to the crime spree. By the time of Arthur’s death in December 2020, the city saw 103 robberies at cannabis businesses in a 10 month-span, according to data from Oregon’s Liquor Control Commission.
A Cash-Only Business
Federal law forces legal cannabis companies throughout the U.S. to operate on a cash-only basis. That’s because federal law prevents banks from working with legal cannabis companies. This leaves those operators vulnerable.
To add to this, law enforcement doesn’t exactly prioritize cannabis businesses, as evidenced by the owner of Purple Heart and others.
Furthermore, the pandemic has caused even more hardship. Despite lack of support from federal and local laws, industry members have found support in each other. And now Senate Democrats too, who are putting their foot down to pass legislation that could protect industry members.