Break-ins have targeted cannabis businesses across the country as police departments focus on protests.
Dispensary owners in Boston, Chicago and Oakland, among other cities, have reported thieves preying on pot shops. Besides marijuana, the stores often have substantial reserves of cash on hand since the industry can’t access the banking system.
Dispensary owners stress that the robberies have been carried out by opportunistic criminals, and should not be used to tarnish those protesting the death of George Floyd.
“In no way do we equate the people who are protesting peacefully with what happened to us,” said Kobie Evans, co-owner of Boston’s Pure Oasis that got robbed Monday.
Pure Oasis is the first REC dispensary in Boston, the first one in a major East Coast city and the first minority-owned one on the East Coast. It had only been open for two weeks before the pandemic lockdown forced it to close for two months. (Massachusetts didn’t deem REC stores essential.) It reopened a week before thieves hit it about 1:40 a.m. on Monday.
“It was like a gut punch,” Evans said. “We’re just trying to get through a solid two weeks of business.” He estimates the thieves took more than $100,000 in marijuana products
“We’re getting back to normal here,” Evans said. The store had more product and reopened the same day.
In Chicago, 40 to 50 people with firearms, crowbars and bats showed up on Sunday afternoon at Mission Dispensary, according to Kris Krane, president of Mission and its parent company 4Front Ventures. “They knew when and where they were going,” he said.
Staff had gotten word about looting, cleared out patients and customers, closed up and got out minutes before the gang arrived. The group took everything of value, including some product, a little cash and computers. Krane is still calculating the loss, but estimates it as between $100,000 and $500,000. “It’s going on all over the place,” Krane said.
The dispensary’s staff and the community worked on Monday to clean up the store and neighborhood. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stopped by the store. Mission will reopen, but Krane did not yet know when. He said it would take weeks to repair and beef up security.
“We love the community we’re in,” Krane said. “We’re gonna continue to embrace it just like the community embraced us in the wake of the break-in.”
In a facebook post, Krane wrote that “my support for the protests and the underlying goal of ending police brutality, systemic law enforcement reform, and societal recognition of the fundamental humanity of people of color in this country remains undeterred.”
“Our store will be rebuilt. George Floyd will still be dead. If in the end all of this pain and destruction leads to real reform and an end to the murder of young black and brown people at the hands of the police, it’s a price I’m willing to pay,” Krane wrote.
On Wednesday, he said, “We need the policy changes that the protesters are calling for. That should be the focus now.”
That includes police accountability. Police have long used drugs, often marijuana, as a pretense for stopping people of color, Krane said. Legalizing cannabis is one piece of the broader criminal justice reform that’s needed.
A push for policy change
The cases also point to the need for cannabis policy changes, such as banking. “That makes us a bigger target,” Krane said.
Similar to the lack of COVID relief for cannabis businesses, they don’t expect to receive any federal relief that may become available for looted businesses.
“Just another example of why we need to be treated like any other business,” Krane said.
In an email, National Cannabis Industry Association spokesperson Morgan Fox said reports to the association about dispensary break-ins mostly involve organized groups—not protesters—taking advantage of civil unrest to specifically target cannabis businesses. Cannabis businesses have long been “perfect targets” because everyone knows they operate largely in cash due to the lack of access to banking services, Fox said. The situation “has been exacerbated by massive unemployment due to the pandemic.”
The association continues pushing for the SAFE Banking Act and has been informing businesses about insurers who serve the industry.
“However, our main focus is on helping to end prohibition, which has been used to disenfranchise and criminalize black and brown communities for decades, and on creating a fair and equitable cannabis industry,” Fox stated.