Thieves made away with a half million dollars worth of weed in a robbery of a marijuana warehouse in Santa Cruz, California last Thursday—and then did it again at another weed business on Sunday.

According to eyewitnesses, it was actually a pretty scary sight. One person who saw what went down at the Fair Avenue warehouse at 2:30 a.m. barely wanted to talk about it with the Santa Cruz reporters — and refused to give their own name.

“They were masked up, clubbed up, and I had a really hard time even making the description of the people because of the weapons I saw,” said the anonymous source.

“It’s not a game, as we can all tell now, that this is going to morph into something that none of us even expected,” they continued, adding that the entire operation was finished in 15 minutes. The proceedings were captured by a surveillance camera, but the suspects remain on the loose.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t something that’s just occurring in Santa Cruz,” said Santa Cruz police deputy chief Jon Bush. “It’s across all the Bay Area and the region, especially with the recent increase in marijuana dispensaries being allowed to sell marijuana.”

Robberies of cannabis businesses are far from a new occurrence, especially in retail dispensaries where federal laws have traditionally made banking difficult, necessitating the presence of lots of cash on site. In 2020, California went through a troubling wave of dispensary robberies that were timed to coincide with the George Floyd-inspired racial justice protests. (It’s unclear why this was the case, but a cynical interpretation might lead one to think the criminals were trying to use the protestors as cover or scapegoats.)

After a video seemed to capture San Francisco police standing by as a weed business was sacked in December 2021, the cannabis community lost its cool and asked government officials for relief. The city responded, halting a municipal tax in an attempt to give the marijuana purveyors a financial break.

But California is far from the only state where cannabis businesses have been the target of crime. Oregon and Washington state saw a string of such robberies in 2020. The cops wound up making an arrest in that case. But before they didn, it got so bad that the following year, the city of Portland gave out $1.33 million in relief to weed businesses, who were also dealing with fall-out from wildfires and a little thing called the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some legislators are attempting to take a proactive approach to the issue. In Washington, senators passed SB 5927, a bill that increased criminal penalties for robberies targeting cannabis businesses.

“When people would ask the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is,’” said Senator Jim Honeyford, the bill’s sponsor, at the time. “Well, that’s why people rob marijuana retailers. Due to federal banking rules, these businesses are almost entirely cash-only operations, making them a target for robberies and a magnet for criminals.”

Indeed, even weed shops in Maine and other New England states were the targets of robberies in 2022.

Follow Caitlin on Instagram, and catch her Spanish-language podcast Crónica on Spotify and Mixcloud. 

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