After a huge increase in armed robberies at local pot stores, and numerous deaths, the state cannabis industry says it is desperate for help.
The Craft Cannabis Coalition, which represents more than 50 cannabis retail stores in Washington, is asking state and county level leaders for help after an uptick in armed robberies of pot shops. Three fatalities were connected to pot shop robberies in Western Washington last week alone.
Adán Espino Jr., executive director of the coalition, says an informal count shows there have been 77 robberies since January. The group sent a letter to legislators in Olympia, as well as officials in King County, and other local elected officials and law enforcement leaders, asking for urgent action.
“We need help, and we need help now,” Espino told KIRO Newsradio. “How many more people need to be shot and killed before we take action?”
“It’s really hard to run a business when you have the prospect of being robbed almost any time,” he added. “These robberies, they have been spiking very recently, of course, but they’re getting incredibly violent.”
Espino says it’s time to change the longstanding issue that makes cannabis retailers sitting targets.
“If we weren’t dealing exclusively in cash, I’m confident in saying that would solve the bulk of our problems,” he said.
He says federal lawmakers have refused to take marijuana off the list of illegal drugs, so most banks and credit card companies won’t work with pot stores. Now, most are cash only, and Espino thinks allowing credit or debit transactions would alleviate a lot of the issues the industry is facing, including robberies.
Meanwhile, some stores have decided to bring in armed security, but Espino says that isn’t sustainable in the long run because of the cost.
“Stores are feeling like they need to hire armed security to literally, potentially shoot it out with folks trying to rob their stores,” he noted.
“What we’re asking for is help. We’re asking for the community to pay attention and not ignore this. We’re asking for lawmakers and policymakers to not ignore this,” he said, offering a suggestion that, “There could be a tax exemption to help stores cover the high cost of security.”
Washington state Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where he went to lobby for legal reforms to help marijuana sellers. He said Congress cannot delay in passing cannabis banking reforms any longer.
KIRO Newsradio’s Chris Martin contributed to this report.