Your favorite marijuana shops are turning to armed security, high-tech glass, and even AI to stave off a surge of robberies amidst conspicuously slow-footed action from law enforcement.
If you own a small business in San Francisco and you get robbed, you can run to a local TV news outlet who will breathlessly trumpet the crime and how the whole city is going to hell with Chesa Boudin as district attorney. If your business sells $5,000 handbags or Swarovski crystals, you can expect police on the scene within seconds and beefed up law enforcement presence for weeks.
This is not the case for cannabis dispensaries. We already knew that Grove Street dispensary BASA was robbed in November and police seemingly just sat and watched. But the Examiner reports on a huge surge in dispensary burglaries, and that “In November, at least 175 shots were fired in the course of over 25 burglaries targeting cannabis businesses in the Bay Area,” and “In the past two weeks alone, seven cannabis businesses in Bayview have been burglarized without a single arrest made.”
There is a sense among legal cannabis proprietors that the police could care less about protecting and serving their stores that sell the formerly illegal substance.
“You look at the Union Square case, and police were adamant to get in there, protect these businesses and get these people arrested,” BASA marketing data analyst Anisa Alazraie told the Examiner. “I don’t see that kind of enthusiasm for small businesses, and especially cannabis businesses.”
Dispensary robberies are a different animal than the usual Nordstrom smash-and-grab. Since dispensaries cannot legally have bank accounts, they deal primarily in cash, so there is always cash on the premises. The product has a unique appeal and is easy to move on the underground market. And its thieves sometimes strike in the wake of racial justice incidents and subsequent demonstrations — as with the surge of robberies during the George Floyd unrest — because police are otherwise occupied.
The above photo is from the period of early June 2020 (as is the one at the top of this post), when two cannabis dispensaries actually scawled or spray-painted on their storefront, “Armed Inside” or “Warning: Armed with Automatic Weapons.” While some are currently hiring armed security, the Examiner explains how others are spending thousands, if not tens of thousands, on specialized unbreakable glass, additional cameras, and AI technology that notifies the burglars that they’ve been recorded and that off-site security guards are giving chase. Some shops are fine with high-powered firearms, others are not.
“A real situation that could happen is police get a call to come down to your facility, because there’s been an accident,” cannabis security consultant Chris Eggers told the Examiner. “And when they get down there there’s dead bodies on your private property and the guard’s gun is smoking."
Images: Joe Kukura, SFist