On Monday, a man was apprehended by police officers at a cannabis dispensary in the West Adams area of Los Angeles after he purportedly fired multiple shots within the store.
When local authorities arrived on the scene, they found one man outside of the storefront, as well as the suspect alone in the store. There was no physical sign of a break-in. The man disclosed to police officers that he believed the suspect had been attempting to shoot him, LAPD Lt. Jerry Davila told the press.
A Possible Crime Wave?
While authorities announced that no injuries were sustained by anyone in the dispensary during the episode, the shooting may be part of a recent rash of disturbances, many in which dispensaries serve as primary targets for would-be robbers. Earlier this summer, a similar incident occurred in South Los Angeles, in which four people were shot during a suspected stick-up, leaving one of them dead.
In Nevada, where pot was legalized in July, a spate of robberies has also plagued retailers and dispensaries—some of which have been highly articulated heists and hostage situations—from early on. One crime group committed a number of dispensary robbings up and down California, ending their crime spree in Nevada after they were caught attempting to steal less than $400 from a safe.
What, then, makes dispensaries and cannabis retailers such an attractive prospect for criminals? Simply put: readily available cash.
Banks Leaving Dispensary Entrepreneurs in Peril
Even though the cannabis legalization movement has paved inroads for entrepreneurs and the green rush, financial institutions in the U.S. have been more hesitant to follow their lead. Because pot is still categorized as a Schedule I drug and is still prohibited for use or sale on a federal level, it’s essentially still uncharted territory for many banks—which, in turn, makes the idea of teaming up with anything related to the cannabis industry unduly unappealing.
Efforts have been made on the part of legislators to encourage banks to work with cannabis entrepreneurs, but the steps to do so are more or less an uphill battle. For the California Assembly, it might take their newly-announced battle to declassify pot as a Schedule I drug to make it happen.
As the State Assembly summarized in their joint resolution after voting 60 to 10 to declassify weed, “the legal commerce of marijuana or cannabis so that businesses dealing with marijuana or cannabis can use traditional banks or financial institutions for their banking needs… would result in providing a legal vehicle for those businesses to pay their taxes.”
So if shop owners can’t rely on banks to keep their money under lock and key, what are the alternatives?
Unfortunately, it’s keeping an eye on it themselves. The majority keep on-site safes—which, in turn, appeals to burglars—and conduct business entirely in cash transactions.
Despite the fact that safes are normally on the premises, that doesn’t mean that they’re stuffed to the gills. Robert Casillas, owner of the Las Vegas dispensary Cannacopia, told reporters in a recent interview that his own vault tends to be “a lot of nothingness,” noting that “as the cash is brought in, there’s a trigger amount… which is confidential.” Once that particular amount is in the safe, it’s sent “off-site.”
Ideally, such practices should deter criminals from preying on dispensaries. In practice, it’s another story. An example? Casillas’ store has been robbed a total of four times since it opened.
While some have suggested extra security such as guards at these sites, many dispensary owners are reluctant to have firearms on the premises.
“The armed issue is a very touchy subject. You’re dealing with a controlled substance still not recognized by the federal government and putting a firearm in conjunction with this business is very risky… which is why we choose to keep the firearms outside of the premises,” Casillas added.