Gun-Toting Budtenders: A New Line of Defense

A recent uptick in robberies have dispensary owners strengthening security, which includes arming themselves with guns.
Gun-Toting Budtenders A New Line of Defense
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Robberies in Oregon and Oklahoma that resulted in fatalities have budtenders considering arming themselves, and dispensary owners are talking steps to beef up security.

On April 30, a suspected armed robber in Oklahoma was shot and killed by an employee at Higher Choice, a dispensary in a strip mall that contains a gun store.

“It was one of our employees who was able to act fast,” said Eric, co-owner of the Highest Choice, who did not want his last name printed. “The situation presented itself and it was handled accordingly. If they present their weapon, you have every right to shoot them dead.”

Eric claims he wears a firearm now, as he expects more robberies to happen.

“It’s not a chance of if, but when, it’s going to happen,” he said.

And the robberies aren’t just happening in Oklahoma. There was also an alarming pattern developing in Portland, Oregon resulting in the death of budtender Michael Arthur at Cured Green dispensary. Thefts at dispensaries in Oregon more than doubled to 99 total in 2020, according to the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association.

Because dispensaries carry large amounts of cash, they make good targets for criminal activity. This is one of the reasons the SAFE banking act has received a lot of support on a federal level, but of course, even if it does pass, the act will not ensure overnight access to better banking with no cash on hand.

However, while some dispensary owners want to beef up security, not all are so pro-gun.

Not All Dispensary Owners Believe in Guns for Defense

“I’m really anti-gun,” said Jina Yoo, owner of Cured Green. While she has a security system and a security guard, she doesn’t support the use of guns. “I don’t need to talk about the gun, especially since my friend died from a gun,” she said. “Guns are the most hateful things.”

Bret Born, on the other hand, owner of Ascend dispensary in Oregon, is not taking chances after his employees were held at gunpoint during a February robbery. His stepson was one of those employees.

“They had my stepson at gunpoint and laid him out execution style,” he said.

While Born was fortunate enough to not have any employee deaths or injuries, the gunmen stole $469 in cash and $14,000 worth of flower. Now, he has an M&P 380 Shield EZ, a semi-automatic Smith & Weston pistol and a Judge Public Defender revolver.

“I always carry a gun all the time,” said Born, who was not at the dispensary when the robbery occurred. “If they had been here when I was here, it would have been like Oklahoma.”

John Monteleone III, owner of Fidus PDX in Portland, was robbed last year of $100,000 cash and $150,000 worth of cannabis. He grew up hunting and fishing, so he knows his way around a gun. He got permission from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to carry a gun, and his employees can also open carry.

“I’m looking at bringing security on, but doing it within,” he explained.

Lt. Greg Pashley, Portland Police public information officer, said that one of the security issues is lack of police presence. While the city has about 600,000 residents, it currently only has about 814 officers. 

“There are fewer sworn employees working for the Police Bureau than at any time in modern history, which has a big impact on our ability to provide the kind of service the community expects and we wish we could provide,” he said. “So, it is probably true to say that the police aren’t doing enough. We are doing what we can with the resources we have.”

At the end of the day, though, Born feels that the only way to truly stop this problem is bigger than the SAFE banking act, more police or more guns. The issue is cannabis not being federally legal.

“We need to take away the perceived value of the jar on my shelf,” he said. “SAFE Banking would be huge, but on the other hand, people need to access it in the state they want, and eliminate the black market.”

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