Pot shops call for more collaboration, police, and new banking rules as violent robberies soar
The statistics are sobering, with at least 70 violent pot shop robberies in the Puget Sound region since the start of the year. Many believe that number is much higher.
Teens wanted for murder, string of armed robberies at pot shops
“I have to say the last year has probably been the scariest,” Gypsy Green co-founder Jenna Rodriguez told lawmakers and other elected officials during a special public safety roundtable hosted by the Liquor and Cannabis Board. “COVID was pretty rough, but then when these armed robberies started happening, obviously everybody’s extremely on edge and it became not only like if this could happen to us, it’s like, ‘when is this gonna happen to us?’ And it finally did about a month ago.”
“I was extremely grateful for the way ours went because absolutely nobody got hurt, and that’s sad. I mean, these other ones we’re hearing about have been horrific,” she added, describing how the robbers were in and out in four minutes and did not hurt anyone, but did get away with money and product.
“Of course, none of that matters because our employees were safe,” she noted.
Alden Linn, the owner of World of Weed in Tacoma, was not so fortunate despite increased security.
“Instead of one security officer, I always have two, one patrolling the parking lot. We were just overran by four individuals that took out the first guard and came into the store, fired a shot, and then ultimately murdered Jordan Brown,” Linn explained to the group as he shared the terrifying account of what transpired during a March 19 robbery.
His employee, 29-year-old Jordan Brown, was killed by the robbers.
“[Jordan] was a stellar employee, well-respected and appreciated by the community, one of the stars of our whole team,” he said.
Linn detailed the need for to Congress finally move forward with the Safe Banking Act, so that marijuana retailers — who currently have limited banking options due to cannabis remaining illegal under federal law – don’t always have to have so much cash on hand.
But he says more can be done at other levels to address the public safety crisis.
“At the state level, we could pass increased robbery legislation, something that increases the penalties for these robbers,” he proposed. “We could re-enable the funding of the police. I think that they need more now than ever with everything that they have to do for us chasing these guys down, going out and serving warrants and doing all this stuff, they’re overwhelmed.”
Linn said until there is a plan and some action he’s not sure when his store will reopen.
“It’s just a sad and tragic event that nobody should have to go through,” he said. “It’s the toughest thing I’ve had had to handle as a business owner. We’re still closed and we’re going to stay closed until we feel that we feel safe and are able to open with confidence that we can handle ourselves.”
State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti went to Washington, D.C. to take the temperature on Congressional action on the Safe Banking Act and appeared somewhat optimistic.
State treasurer pushes Congress for solution to rash of violent pot shop robberies
“It’s going to take some major timing issues, but with the right priority, I feel like there’s a path,” said Pellicciotti. “It’s going to take in my view, a kind of pedal to the metal, right now. There’s a narrow window, we just need to really push right now on that.”
Democratic Senator Karen Keiser appreciated the treasurer’s efforts, but was not going to hold her breath on Congressional action.
“I have to be skeptical that Congress is going to pass this this year, I really am not holding my breath. They got Daylight Savings Time passed out of the Senate, but that’s about it,” she remarked. “Anyway, that’s not my problem — my problem is in this state.”
“I think we are at an impasse and we need to move forward immediately if possible,” she continued. “This is a public safety issue. It is also a dangerous workplace issue, and I am asking the the Liquor and Cannabis Board to work with the [Department of] Labor and Industries, staff people on what they think we should do to protect workers in these retail stores. This is an immediate need, and I would think we could do this on some basis, maybe an emergency basis.”
Keiser suggested a two-door entry system where one person is buzzed in at a time. She also expressed extreme frustration with the failure of fellow lawmakers to act on one of her previous bills in 2018.
“Two years ago, I introduced Senate Bill 1633,” she recalled. “It was passed out of our committee on a bipartisan basis, it would have required that there be a report of all the robberies to the LCB, because we don’t have accurate data on how many robberies there, and if they’re organized crime, because it’s beginning to appear to me that it is quite organized.”
But retail associations fought against it.
“They were concerned it would imply that it wasn’t a safe industry, that the workplaces and the retail stores were dangerous,” she said. “Well, two years later, we know it’s dangerous, and I’m really unhappy.”
“We’ve had two initiatives in the Legislature to address this issue,” Keiser added. “We had an enhanced sentence for armed robbery just like you have for pharmacies. If somebody goes into a pharmacy to get oxycontin from a pharmacist and uses a gun, there’s an enhanced sense of acceptance. We could do that also for retail, and that’s just another element of Senate Bill 6033. I’m willing to negotiate on this. I don’t have absolute detailed, hard lines on this.”
The bottom line for Keiser is that lawmakers need to do something quickly.
“I am absolutely sure we have to take action,” she said. “We cannot dig around any further and wait for Congress to act or wait for there to be collaboration in the industry, because it hasn’t happened yet, and people are dying and people are being terrified.”