By: Buz Deliere | December 26, 2022
Seattle, Wa - After ten years of legalized cannabis in Washington, the industry is flourishing - but businesses are left facing a huge challenge: what to do with their tremendous piles of cash?
In an age where crime can often be unpredictable and violent, licensed cannabis sellers must now contend with the risk associated with storing large amounts of money on-site.
Washington's cannabis retail stores experienced a sharp increase in armed robberies this year, with over 100 incidents reported — an alarming high. This troubling statistic is backed up by the Craft Cannabis Coalition tracker run by Uncle Ike’s, which serves as one of 70 small businesses across Washington dedicated to supporting local canna businesses.
Since 2017, Uncle Ike's has overseen an informal cataloging of robberies targeting Washington state retail marijuana stores - robbing these businesses of precious inventory and revenue.
With no formal tracking by the Liquor and Cannabis Board, this tally is invaluable in providing insight into a largely overlooked area of crime.
After changes in tax structure on cannabis goods made by the state government in 2017, incidents of armed robberies at pot stores have been steadily mounting - and making an unfortunate turn for the worse. This year saw its first fatality from one such robbery when an employee was killed at a Tacoma marijuana store back in March.
Dispensary owners face the unique challenge of operating on an entirely cash-based system, as cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. This means that access to traditional financial services and institutions - such as loans, capital investments, bank accounts, or credit cards - is out of reach for businesses in this industry.
With no other option but to handle large amounts of cash on hand often magnifying their risk exposure significantly.
The executive director of Craft Cannabis Coalition, Adán Espinos had this to say, “There’s probably more cash at cannabis stores than there is at your bank.”
The large amounts of cash and products that are able to be easily sold on the black market make the potential risk greater for cannabis store owners to be a target of a robbery.
Businesses have been forced to invest in increasingly advanced security measures, all while attempting to maintain a positive customer experience. With the ever-rising risks of robbery, it has become more important than ever for companies to walk the delicate line between safety and service excellence.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has been actively engaging with local stakeholders, hosting regional crime prevention training sessions for licenses as well as free security assessments from a contracted security firm. The LCB is seeking to ensure the safety of all participating in legal cashless transactions by talking about options available locally.
Offering support to smaller local businesses, the state legislature is exploring potential grant opportunities for retail stores lacking the resources necessary for heightened security. This could include adding doors and sensors that many larger operations already employ.
As the cannabis industry blossomed into a major source of jobs and revenue in Washington since 2020, authorities have begun to focus on safeguarding licensed businesses.
In response to when Washington and Colorado legalized cannabis sales back in 2013, U.S. Rep Ed Perlmutter of Colorado proposed the SAFE Banking Act in an effort to protect banks working with licensed cannabis businesses from potential federal penalties.
Despite garnering the support of both parties in Congress and having cleared the U.S. House multiple times, the SAFE Banking Act has yet to pass through Senate approval.
After an exciting decade of cannabis legalization, dispensary owners have been left exposed to potentially violent robberies due to a lack of banking options. With employees and customers at risk in such situations, it is clear that more accessible financial services must be provided for these businesses soon if the safety of all involved is paramount.