‘High’ frequency in armed robberies at pot shops in Puget Sound region
Pot shops up and down the I-5 corridor, from Bellingham to Vancouver, are increasingly becoming the target of armed robberies.
And some of those robberies have even left employees with gunshot wounds.
Tom Bout, owner of the Cannabis Professionals Network and general manager at Emerald Haze in Renton, has been tracking recent robberies in a spreadsheet with others in the industry.
“Since November, there have been 33 armed robberies — 33,” he said.
That includes Bout’s own workplace, as well as dozens of other stores in Western Washington.
“[Emerald Haze was] robbed, the night we were robbed, Seattle Cannabis Company was robbed,” Bout counted off. “The neighbor down the street, Buddy’s, was robbed just a few days before we were.”
Ian Eisenberg, owner of Uncle Ike’s Pot Shops, said that cannabis stores have always been a target of criminals, but the armed robberies are “happening almost daily” now.
One reason why pot shops are hit so often is that the businesses are cash-only. Because marijuana is federally illegal, federal law prohibits the stores from taking credit or debit card payments.
“While we don’t have a lot of cash — because everyone has decent cash-management systems — there’s a little bit of cash on-hand, which is probably more than the average coffee shop or gas station,” Eisenberg said.
As a result, pot stores are having to spend money hiring armed guards, which Eisenberg says can eat into a big part of a small business’ profit margin.
Bout wants to see a stronger response from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.
“The LCB is not communicating these to the stores,” Bout said. “A store that got robbed in Everett has no idea that there was a robbery in Vancouver or Tacoma … [The LCB has] the contact information for every store. They should be communicating these crimes when they happen to let everyone know.”
He said that it is the least the board could do, considering the tax revenue that the stores generate for the state.
“All those taxes being paid for those products — some of that money should be made to make these stores safe,” Bout said.
However, Brian Smith, a spokesperson for the LCB, said that the board does not necessarily even find out about each robbery — those reports go to police instead.
“We are only aware of robberies when they are reported to us,” he said. “These are criminal offenses that are reported to local law enforcement.”
As of last week, the board is sending emails out to pot shops with tips for how store employees can protect themselves.
“As a proactive measure, we reached out to all licensees in an email and told them, ‘Here are a number of things that you can do to ensure the safety of yourself and your employees and customers,'” Smith said.
Those tips include hiring armed guards and putting up signs to let would-be robbers know that there is not much cash on-site and employees cannot access the safe.
Smith said the board has also worked with members of Congress for years to try to allow Washington pot shops to use cards, so they will be less of a target.
In the meantime, some of the pot shops, along with Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound, are offering a $3,000 reward for anyone with any information on pot shop robberies that leads to an arrest.