As the George Floyd protests raged across California’s largest cities last weekend, police officers abandoned their usual night patrols. While the rioters clashed with the cops, several cannabis businesses were robbed during a series of purportedly planned and organized break-ins. In some instances, groups of armed thieves held cannabis employees at gunpoint as their cohorts bagged up the loot.
According to the business owners of the heisted pot shops, the suspects weren’t protesters or random looters. Instead, they say they’re certain that organized, coordinated groups of career criminals broke into their stores.
The dispensary Magnolia Oakland got hit twice over the weekend, on two successive nights. On Saturday night, a group of 20 armed men forced their way in and subdued the shop’s unarmed security guard, though the security guard was not harmed, Magnolia’s executive director, Debby Goldsberry, told Weed Week. Another dozen men broke in on Sunday night, forcing another unarmed security guard to “stand down.”
Arming a store’s security guard didn’t fare much better. The Daily Beast detailed another stick-up incident over the weekend, this time at Oakland’s Blüm dispensary. According to an internal company letter that The Daily Beast obtained, intruders drew guns on Blüm’s armed guard and got him to surrender while the rest of their team pilfered the dispensary’s pot.
The Daily Beast also cited “numerous sources” that said dispensaries and retail stores weren’t the only cannabis businesses robbed amid the George Floyd protests. Extraction labs, distribution warehouses, and cannabis cultivation centers experienced coordinated break-ins, as well. Curiously, these businesses don’t advertise like pot shops do. But each one, and its physical address, is listed on California’s state cannabis licensing website.
In response to the robberies, state regulators removed all business addresses from the online database.
The owners of California Street Cannabis, located in San Francisco, reported that the people who broke into their store operated like an experienced outfit, not a rag-tag group of opportunistic looters.
“It was clear they weren’t part of the protests,” Drakari Donaldson, one of California Street Cannabis’s owners, told MERRY JANE during a phone call. “We don’t believe anyone who was actually fighting the same causes as the protesters are the ones looting these small businesses.”
Donaldson noted that several other pot shops in the area got hit in a similar fashion, indicating that the thieves carefully planned the break-ins in advance.
“They had a lookout and they had an entry guy,” another owner of California Street Cannabis, Ben Bleiman, told The Daily Beast. The burglars broke through the store’s front layers of security incredibly quickly, but they didn’t stay in the shop for long, either. Although the group stole $10,000 worth of weed, they never got into the store’s inventory in the back, nor did they access the store’s safes.
“This is the definition of organized crime,” Bleiman continued. “Three cars pulled up at the same time, they gained entry, grabbed everything they could, and were in and out in two minutes. That is organized.”
The latest spate of robberies aren’t novel for the state’s weed industry, though. Last year, LA Weekly reported that Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland, and parts of the Emerald Triangle experienced a “crime wave” at cannabis businesses, including one incident where a group brandishing guns made off with 20 pounds of weed flower, and a separate incident where one thief actually cracked a safe — and scored just over $160,000 in cash.
Were last weekend’s heists connected to the robberies reported last year? Authorities either aren’t sure or they’re not saying anything due to pending investigations, but it’s especially odd that coordinated pot-shop robberies weren’t isolated to California, either. The owner of a social equity pot shop in Boston believes his business suffered a “targeted attack” by thieves on Sunday night. And police in Palm Beach, Florida, said a group of 30 people raided several medical marijuana dispensaries while peaceful protests took place elsewhere in the city.
If anything, these break-ins highlight the importance of giving licensed and compliant cannabis businesses access to the nation’s banks. If cannabis businesses could store their cash somewhere safe and secure, organized criminals would look elsewhere for easy scores.