The last thing Jade Stefano wanted to do before the holidays was deal with a break-in. But in late November, the owner of Puffin Farms found herself doing exactly that.  

And she’s in good company. Cannabis businesses all over the state have reported robberies in recent months.

The Robberies

Thieves broke down the door of Puffin Farm’s processing facility in the Seattle area on November 25. They used a 7-foot crowbar to smash through the heavy door. After rummaging through some large bags of spent flower that had already been processed into extract, the burglars got scared off by a loud alarm and fled.

The thieves didn’t manage to steal anything, but they did some serious damage. 

“There was several thousand dollars worth of finished good sitting out that they ignored, I think they were looking for bigger items,” Stefano told The Sesh. “They did several thousands of dollars worth of damage.”

That same night a nearby cannabis producer reviewed video footage and realized the same people were casing their facility. The criminals wore conspicuous face masks and red gloves making them easy to identify. 

The same robbers, easily identified by the huge crowbar they left behind, robbed a producer in Poulsbo one week later. The thieves stole a significant amount of flower according to Stefano. 

This experience was the final straw. Stefano had long believed the WSLCB’s practice of listing producer and processors’ physical addresses on its website was a bad idea. Now she realized, it was downright dangerous. 

Taking Down the Data

Stefano wrote a letter to Rick Garza the Director of WSLCB, along with the Board. In the letter, Stefano detailed her reasons for not wanting that information so readily available for anyone who wanted it. 

“Since the break-in, we no longer feel safe,” Stefano wrote. “We do not understand why the WSLCB is providing our information on their website in a convenient map format to criminals looking to cause us terrible harm.”

Brian Smith, the Communications Director for the WSLCB, who also received the letter, responded to Stefano’s letter in agreement.

“I think we’ve reached the point where the non-retail maps and addresses should be removed from the website,” Smith replied.

As of now, the information has been removed from the WSLCB’s website. Unfortunately, the addresses are still available on topshelfdata.com, and they have not responded to cannabis producer’s requests to take them down. 

Keeping Track of Crime

In Stefano’s letter, she laid out several ways Washington state could help keep cannabis businesses and the public safe from robbery.

Among the proposed action items, was creating a database of crimes against cannabis businesses.

Currently, The Washington State Patrol is responsible for tracking all burglaries in Washington state. Burglaries of cannabis businesses aren’t specified and fall into the umbrellas of Commercial/Office Building for producers and processors, which accounted for 6.7% of total burglaries in 2017, and Specialty Stores for retailers, which accounted for 3.7% of total burglaries in 2017.  

SB 6033

On December 3, SB 6033 sponsored by Senators Karen Keiser and Curtis King was pre-filed. One of the goals in trying to pass the bill is to create a database for robberies of Washington cannabis retailers, but not producer processors. 

“My son and his partner work in cannabis establishments, and she was held up. It was alarming and scary,” Senator Keiser told The Sesh. “I investigated the issue and talked to Rep. Morgan Irwin, who is a member of the Seattle Police Department. He is concerned that there is a coordinated effort to rob cannabis stores because of their reliance on cash.”

Keiser aims to mitigate the risk of these cash-only businesses by keeping track of crimes against them.

“Right now no one agency has an overall picture of these robberies. The main purpose of this bill is to provide oversight and data on how many are happening and where.” Keiser stated. 

As for whether or not the bill may include other licensees in the future, Sen. Keiser replied, “the area of greatest public concern is at retail businesses because public safety is at risk when robberies happen while customers are there. But this is not a final version of the bill and I’m open to hearing about the concerns of producers and processors.”

Repeating Mistakes 

The only other action SB 6033 seeks to take to improve the safety of cannabis retailers is to enhance sentences of defendants caught coordinating a robbery against a cannabis retailer

Stefano doesn’t see how harsher sentences will keep cannabis businesses safe. 

“That typically leads to social justice issues, with minorities receiving harsher sentences,” Stefano explained. “It’s not going to help, there are some potential social justice issues, so why even go there? What they should be doing is securing people’s data and putting funds towards investigating these crimes.”

According to a fact sheet on prison terms and recidivism from the Pew Charitable Trust, “extra time behind bars neither prevented crimes during the period of incarceration nor kept offenders from committing crimes once released from prison.” 

With social inequity in cannabis a growing concern, harsher sentences seem like a problematic solution.

Moving Forward

Stefano intends to keep stay informed regarding SB 6033’s movement. If the opportunity arises, she may offer her expertise to the legislators drafting the bill. If you have any comments regarding the legislation, you can leave them here