Jan 30, 2024 - Politics

Washington state lawmakers want to curb pot shop robberies

Illustration of a cannabis leaf decal on a broken window.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Washington state lawmakers are looking at ways to crack down on pot shop robberies, which cannabis industry leaders say have been happening at an alarming rate.

Why it matters: Cannabis store owners say they're frequent targets for theft because federal banking restrictions require them to do business mostly in cash.

Driving the news: A proposal in Washington's Legislature would impose an extra year of jail time for people convicted of robbing a cannabis store under certain conditions.

  • Prosecutors could seek the 12-month sentence enhancement if someone is convicted of robbing a cannabis store as part of a group, or if a person uses a vehicle to smash into the business.
  • Several pot shops have reported cars crashing into their businesses as part of burglary or robbery attempts in recent months.

The latest: The proposal received a public hearing before the state Senate Law & Justice committee on Monday, and is tentatively scheduled to be voted out of the committee Tuesday.

What they're saying: Brooke Davies, deputy director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association, told lawmakers on Monday that pot shops have more cash on site than other types of businesses, mainly because of banking restrictions tied to cannabis being federally illegal.

  • That has fueled what Davies called "an alarming spike" in robberies at retail pot shops, which Washington voters legalized at the state level with the passage of I-502 in 2012.
  • "We need to do something to control the problem," state Sen. Jim McCune (R-Graham), the bill's sponsor, said during the committee hearing.

By the numbers: Spokespeople for the state Liquor and Cannabis Board and the Seattle Police Department told Axios they don't specifically track cannabis shop robberies.

  • But an informal tally of reported incidents maintained by Uncle Ike's, a Seattle-based chain of pot shops, counted more than 100 cannabis retail shop robberies statewide in 2022 and about 60 in 2023.
  • That's up from fewer than 40 robberies at Washington pot shops that the business tracked in 2021.

Yes, but: The Washington Defender Association and Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers oppose the bill, saying it creates an uneven standard for robberies committed at pot shops versus other types of robberies that involve accomplices.

The big picture: Jerina Pillert, CEO of Hashtag Cannabis, said her shops have been robbed multiple times and she's had multiple burglary attempts where cars plowed into her storefronts.

  • But she told Axios she's uncertain whether the state measure would act as much of a deterrent.
  • She said that Congress passing federal legislation to open up traditional banking to cannabis businesses would be the bigger help.
  • "Until I can access real banking like every other business, and not have so much cash on hand, I don't think anything is going to change," said Pillert, who has stores in Seattle, Redmond and Everett.

What we're watching: A measure that aims to resolve many of cannabis businesses' banking issues passed out of a U.S. Senate committee last fall, but would still need to pass both chambers of Congress to become law.

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