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Pot shop robberies became an unfortunate trend during the pandemic. But now a crime wave that recently surged on the West Coast may have reached the easternmost tip of the US: Maine.
The Associated Press reported that Maine law enforcement thinks that a $59,000 robbery in October of a Maine cannabis business is linked to a string of similar raids on weed businesses throughout New England. Cannabis businesses are largely seen as targets because federal banking regulations leave many with few options besides conducting their business in cash. Across the country, cash-only cannabis establishments have faced numerous robberies, often by what appears to be tightly-coordinated teams of pro criminals.
The October Maine robbery took place at a cannabis warehouse in Gorham. Suspects cut through one of the building’s walls with an angle grinder to get at its goods, eventually escaping with almost 30 pounds of cannabis flower and 500 vape cartridges. No arrests have yet been made.
Authorities suspect a crew of burglars that included two Boston-based brothers pulled off the October heist, largely based on remarks recorded during the robbery by security cameras. Authorities also believe this crew is responsible for similar heists in Maine and Rhode Island.
Maine is not the first state where legal cannabis businesses have been hit by chain robberies. In fact, the trend began nationwide during the 2020 George Floyd protests. Bay Area businesses have since complained that law enforcement has done little to stop them from being broken into and sacked — a crime spree that appeared to be the work of a highly organized team and not random looting protestors who were initially blamed for the robberies.
The industry’s furor rose to a fever pitch after the San Francisco Chronicle published a video allegedly showing SFPD standing by unconcerned as a getaway car loaded up and … drove away in November 2021. Shortly thereafter, the city lifted municipal taxes on local cannabis businesses in an attempt to placate the industry, which had already been protesting exorbitant weed tax rates statewide.
Weed business robberies, in fact, seemed to spread up and down the West Coast. This eventually resulted in legislation passed last month in Washington state that increased criminal penalties for such raids on cannabis businesses.
That legislative initiative, however, was not enough to save the life of a Tacoma, Washington, dispensary employee who was fatally shot in a March 16 robbery.
“When people would ask the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, ‘Because that's where the money is.’ Well, that’s why people rob marijuana retailers,” said Washington Sen. Jim Honeyford, SB 5927’s sponsor. “Due to federal banking rules, these businesses are almost entirely cash-only operations, making them a target for robberies and a magnet for criminals.”
Industry advocates hope that those cash-only operations will soon come to a close. This year has seen a renewed lobbying effort behind the SAFE Banking Act, which, if it succeeds in being passed by the House and Senate, will be the first federal legislation that regulates an aspect of the cannabis industry.