Washington Wants Harsher Penalties for Dispensary Robbers

Washington has an issue with legal cannabis robberies, and they’re eager to put it to an end with harsher penalties.
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A proposal in Washington to impose harsher penalties for robbing cannabis retailers was approved by lawmakers in the state Senate last week. 

The legislation, Senate Bill 5927, would tack on a year to the prison sentence of an individual convicted of first or second degree robbery of a cannabis shop—which, as local television station KING 5 noted, is “the same sentence that is given to someone who robs a pharmacy.”

The sponsor of the bill, Republican state Senator Jim Honeyford, invoked a notorious 20th century American bank robber to convey the urgency behind the proposal.

“When people would ask the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ Well, that’s why people rob marijuana retailers,” Honeyford said, as quoted by KING 5. “Due to federal banking rules, these businesses are almost entirely cash-only operations, making them a target for robberies and a magnet for criminals.

“The number of robberies of cannabis stores is on the rise, and this bill would make improvements for not just the benefit of the retailers themselves, but for the public safety of the community as a whole,” Honeyford added.

The bill has now been referred to the state House for further debate.

According to a summary of the bill, cannabis retailers in Washington “have been suffering from an increasing number of, often violent, thefts which are frequently committed by retail crime rings,” a spike in theft that leads to “increased cost to the businesses and lost tax revenues for the state.”

“This bill is one prong in a multi-prong approach needed to combat retail theft and protect public safety. The bill provides a deterrent to would-be criminals and a tool for prosecutors in seeking convictions for this type of crime. Often, this type of crime does not get reported on by the media,” the bill summary reads. “This crime is a big problem, and everyone in the industry is worried about the chance that they could be the next victim. This bill represents one piece of a robust legislative strategy to deal with this issue. This is a cash business which makes retailers an attractive target for crime.”

The summary says there have been more than 35 robberies at cannabis retailers since New Year’s Day.

A spokesperson for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board told KING 5 that it “has been working to communicate safety guidelines with business owners,” including the following: “hire armed security guards, make frequent cash deposits so there isn’t much cash available in shops, post signs in businesses explaining that staff don’t have access to much cash, clearly communicate safety guidelines with staff so they know what to do in the event of a robbery.”

Honeyford’s bill says that the board’s “chief enforcement officer must regularly consult with the Washington state patrol to provide details of attempts or incidents of robbery in the first or second degree of a retail outlet and to discuss any evidence that indicates a pattern of, or coordinated effort by, a criminal enterprise.”

The bill isn’t the only change to Washington’s cannabis industry currently under consideration by the state legislature. Legislation currently before the state House would aim to “increase social equity and racial diversity in the cannabis trade,” according to the Seattle Times.

The bill would build on the recommendations of a task force to increase cannabis business ownership among people of color, creating “38 new retail and 25 new producer and processor licenses each year through 2029” while requiring “that these and any other new cannabis licenses may only be awarded to so-called social equity applicants until 2030, after which, 50 percent of licenses must be awarded to such applicants,” the newspaper reported.

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