Cannabis businesses hope for relief in new year following rash of robberies in 2022

Cannabis businesses in Washington are hoping for some relief in 2023 following an uptick in robberies this past year.

Many have installed new security measures, hoping it's enough to turn the tide on the crime wave impacting marijuana businesses in the Pacific Northwest.

The owner of Uncle Ike's has been keeping track of robberies over the past six years. He says the number of robberies has skyrocketed since he started the list back in 2017, and industry experts believe the increases will continue in the New Year.

"The kind of epidemic of robberies that have been happening, that has been very serious and concerning and resulted in some injuries," said Adan Espino, Executive Director of the Craft Cannabis Coalition.

At Goobie's Doobies in Maple Valley, owner Tea is doing year-end inventory.

"Holiday sales have been great," said Tea.

2022 ended on a high note for the business, which is named after Tea's late dog, Goobie. The positive finish to 2022 comes after a tough time this past summer, when two men robbed the business at gunpoint.

"We have our robbery behind us, we are bringing in new products, we have a really great crew right now—things are looking up," said Tea.

Goobie's Doobies isn't the only business that had to pick up the pieces following a robbery this past year. The owner of Uncle Ike's, Ian Eisenberg, keeps track of the robberies of marijuana businesses in the "Uncle Ike's Robbery Tracker" database. He says the list comes from police, news reports, or direct reporting from business owners. In 2022, of the robberies he could confirm, there were nearly 100 listed in Seattle and the surrounding areas. Back in 2017 when the count started, there were only nine reported.

The Craft Cannabis Coalition says the trend is disturbing.

"There was a robbery spike in late 2021 through early 2022. It kind of calmed down for a bit, and it kind of came back up just a couple of months ago," said Espino. "[We] fully expect another wave in 2023."

Both Espino and Eisenberg says they don't think the local increase in robberies has anything to do with a lack of "safe banking" laws at the federal level, because there are now more non-cash options available than ever before.

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"Safe banking wasn’t going to solve the safety issue. Crime is kind of a local thing," said Espino.

Instead, Eisenberg believes it's due to no-cash bail and no-pursuit laws or a lack of officers on the streets.

"I think we would like to see efforts, or at least money, go towards cities and counties, or at least local law enforcement, to help with cannabis. You know, increasing their share of cannabis revenues for these purposes," said Espino. "The policing laws have contributed. I couldn’t tell you to what specific extent."

Tea says law enforcement in a different county had reportedly arrested one of the Goobie's robbery suspects for a different crime. She's hopeful that they have the person responsible in custody, and he will face justice eventually in King County.

"We are going to put this robbery behind us, we are going to restock all our products, and we are going to have a wonderful 2023," said Tea.

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As for other trends that will continue in 2023, Espino says the illicit market and oversupply is a huge problem for the state, creating a buyer's market and much lower profit margins.

"There are oversupply problems from the pandemic, and it’s hard to do business in general," said Espino. "The overall market changes and the cost of the product… Oversupply is still a huge problem in the state. It’s probably going to keep driving the price down."