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The Washington Senate voted unanimously — 49-0 — to approve a bill that would increase the penalty for those who use a vehicle to rob a cannabis retailer.

Senate Bill 6133, sponsored by state Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, would have a new “special allegation” to seek an additional year of custody for the convicted criminal. Prosecutors could also charge the suspect with either first-degree or second-degree robbery – a class A or class B felony, respectively. (A PDF of the bill can be viewed here.)

The legislation has been written due to the state’s cannabis shops — more than 1,000 of them — are experiencing an “epidemic” of costly, deadly crimes.

“These cannabis shops are in all of our neighborhoods, and have really become a magnet for an unprecedented level of criminal activities,” McCune said. “This bill goes straight at one of the trending criminal activities – ‘crash and grab’ robberies, where perpetrators use stolen vehicles to smash into storefronts, take what they can and then quickly flee in another stolen car.”

Aid sought: State cannabis industry asks local leaders for help after deadly robberies

Why cannabis shops are a target for robberies

Since cannabis is federally illegal, pot shops and cannabis retailers cannot take credit or debit cards, with some exceptions. The reliance on cash has made these businesses a target for armed robberies.

The most common form of cannabis retailer robbery is a “smash-and-grab,” where a storefront window is smashed in with an object, such as a brick or a rock, so robbers can go in and grab whatever they can, fleeing before police respond to the scene.

A growing trend with smash-and-grab robberies is using a stolen car to smash into a storefront and abandoning the vehicle at the scene.

Pot shop robbery reports

The legislation would also assist the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) in maintaining statistics on pot shop break-ins by requiring cannabis retailers to report robberies to the board within 10 days. The record keeping of cannabis break-ins has been inconsistent up to this point.

Cannabis retailers reported 29 armed, daytime robberies occurred in one month in January 2022 — including six in one day. There were 31 armed robberies the following month, which may be an undercount because the numbers aren’t from police reports, but the industry’s own (unofficial) tally known as Uncle Ike’s Robbery Tracker. (The Google sheet can be viewed here.) The tracker comes from Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop, which has five locations within the greater Seattle area.

Issue remains: Pot shops still high target for smash-and-grabs, armed robbery

“As we heard from those in the industry who testified … these types of robberies are happening on a weekly basis in Washington,” McCune said. “Some of the retailers have been hit five, seven, even eight times, to the point where it is almost becoming routine. Some no longer even bother to report the crimes. Reporting and tracking these events are essential to understanding just how big of a problem this is and reducing the effects of these crimes on cannabis businesses and the communities where they are found.”

Cannabis stores have been legal in Washington for nearly a decade, and the state is bringing in nearly half a billion dollars a year in tax revenue, McCune noted.

SB 6133 heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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