Armed Robberies: Just Another Cost of Doing Cannabusiness?

The key word explaining this type of crime is "opportunistic."

This past September, armed robbers stormed into Denver, Colorado’s RiNo Supply Company medical marijuana dispensary, fired two shots into the ceiling, and made away with undisclosed items. One noteworthy aspect of the attack was that the grab made the news at all. The threat of armed incursions, and protecting against that threat, is an accepted cost of doing business for on-the-books marijuana dealers.

Still, the recent spike in armed robberies at legal weed outlets has sent a wave of fear through the cannabis industry.

“Everyone in the industry is having nightmares,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a Colorado based lobby group.

"If a business is forced to keep a barrel of cash on the premises, that business becomes a target for robbery."

Under state laws, medical marijuana dispensaries are required to install surveillance cameras on their premises. Villains who commit crimes in pot shops are usually captured on tape. Even with that guarantee of evidence on hand, dispensaries are an armed robber’s dream scenario: Hold up a convenience store, and a crook might skip away with 20 bucks; rob a dispensary, and the score could be $300,000 and a hefty-bag full of high-quality weed.

The key word explaining why this type of crime against the cannabis industry keeps occurring is opportunistic. If a business is forced to keep a barrel of cash on the premises, that business becomes a target for robbery. Since marijuana remains banned at the federal level, banks and credit unions refuse to accept money from marijuana-related businesses. Financial institutions also deny businesses directly tied to marijuana the ability to make credit and debit card transactions. So wherever the sticky green is sold, the dirty green is piling up.

Even though companies transport money with the assistance of armored vehicles, cash-based weed businesses have become a larceny magnet, and criminals are pulling off heists with all the blunt-force finesse of a Wesley Snipes movie.

Here’s a partial roll call of recent life-endangering pot robberies:

*In September, a man and woman armed with a knife and a stick stormed a Portland marijuana cart called Smoke Buddies. The couple barreled their way inside the cart where, according to KATU News: “A short struggle ensued between the victim and the two suspects; at one point, police say the female suspect and the victim fought with sticks, until the male suspect got back in his car and fled the scene.”

*Back in May, two armed men walked into the 8th Wonder medical marijuana dispensary in Washington State, put a gun in the clerk’s face, and stole cash and drugs. Though the criminals were caught on camera, the two men have not yet been arrested.

In June, a burglary occurred at a Bellevue marijuana processing business called Origin Cannabis Company. Surveillance video shows one of the culprits nabbing more than $10,000 worth of weed. Detectives believed the holdup was an inside job and arrested two suspects. One of the men was an employee of the business who had clocked out of his shift 10 minutes before the robbery.

*Keeping Seattle police busy, a $100,000 heist occurred in May at a medical marijuana facility on the 2000 block of 22nd Avenue; which houses a medical lab and two medical marijuana grow operations. A pair of burglars tore through walls to gain entry and cut power to the building. The offenders stole an employee’s vehicle to make their escape and drove away with bags filled with processed marijuana concentrates.

*In February, a guard at an illegal grow house in Oakland was charged with murder for fatally shooting a man who was trying to steal marijuana from the facility.

*February also saw a 25-year-old security guard fatally shot during a gun battle inside a San Bernardino illegal marijuana dispensary. One of the men forced his way into a back room and started shooting at the security guard, who returned fire. The guard was struck in the gun battle and pronounced dead at the scene.

In 2014, former Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement saying that the Justice Department and the Treasury Department would soon issue guidance to banks on how to work with marijuana businesses.

Changes to banking regulations are not happening quick enough for people working in the industry; especially those who have to fight off culprits with sticks in order to protect their merchandise and the lives of their employees.