After a string of robberies across the city left cannabis businesses financially vulnerable — and complaining of inaction on the part of officials — San Francisco's legislative board passed an ordinance that halts a municipal tax on the industry.
“Cannabis businesses, along with many other retailers in San Francisco, are struggling under the weight of out-of-control retail theft,” Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who authored the legislation, told a local news channel. “San Francisco needs to do more to protect these businesses, their employees, and their customers before we hit them with a new tax.”
Mandelman said the pause in taxation, which will last through the end of 2023, is also meant to bolster the industry against illegal cannabis sales. California's unlicensed weed market remains popular partially due to expensive prices at dispensaries, prices inflated from the state’s high taxes on licensees, a 2019 report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office found.
It’s been a rough stretch for San Francisco Bay Area weed businesses, which have recently suffered another string of robberies that elicited little response from law enforcement —and in the case of one break-in captured on video, no action at all.
A clip sent to a local publication showed the San Francisco police seemingly standing by, inactive, as three robbery suspects loaded up on the Bay Area Safe Alternative dispensary’s wares and drove away.
“We need some answers on what happened here," said Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents a nearby neighborhood, after viewing the video.
Frustrated entrepreneurs across the bay in Oakland — where still more robberies have been reported — responded to the wave of robberies by asking for their taxes back. In a Monday press conference, members of the cannabis industry stated that their businesses pay considerably more taxes than non-cannabis companies — and that they’d prefer to use those funds on protecting their livelihoods.
“Cannabis equity businesses in particular need more money and resources. Small businesses and small farmers need help,” said executive director of Supernova Women, Amber Stenter, as reported by Marijuana Moment. “Piling on and increasing taxes — and now with the threat of robberies and violence — is proving to be unbearable for cannabis operators. When we’re faced with targeted attacks, the effects are magnified.”
"I have to admit I cried because I fear for my business in Oakland," John Alston of Oakland dispensary James Henry told a local news station. "It pains me to think about alternatives, to move my business."
That press conference was part of a larger statewide movement against heavy taxation on weed, which recently picked up speed when the state announced that it may raise cultivation taxes. In Sacramento, one entrepreneur published an op-ed stating that he would withhold his taxes until the legislature alters the current regulatory system to lighten the industry's financial load.
Pressed for how to explain what is happening to the local industry, some cannabis entrepreneurs have suggested that the police’s inaction — in the video, and regarding the larger, widspread break-in problem — is intentional. Perhaps officers take umbrage to activists’ calls to “defund the police,” or maybe they don’t believe in legal cannabis in the first place. Or maybe, according to some theories mentioned at Forbes, the police are stoking chaos just before the recall election for district attorney Chesa Boudin, whose progressive politics have placed him at odds with the cops.
This is not the first time a seemingly organized group robbed Bay Area cannabis businesses. In the summer of 2020, teams of coordinated thieves took advantage of distracted police forces during the George Floyd protests by not only hitting several dispensaries in a short period of time, but doing it under the guise of random looters, too. Last year's burglaries resulted in few arrests.
Regardless of how the robberies started, they’ll need to stop soon if the Bay Area wants to keep its long-standing legal cannabis industry.
"Effectively the city of Oakland is pushing us out," Kristi Palmer, the owner of Kiva Confections, which has been based in the city for years, told ABC-7. "Pushing cannabis businesses out of its city lines."