Some local leaders say that crime plaguing Oakland's cannabis delivery and dispensary industry over the past few years puts minority business owners at greater risk of closure.

California was the first state in America to legalize medical cannabis. In 2016, it legalized recreational marijuana as well. Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, promised to attempt social equity in its licensing processes. It aimed to focus on communities most impacted by the War on Drugs and put in place automatic expungements for people convicted of things that were no longer considered crimes — convictions that largely targeted minorities.

But when recreational marijuana sales actually started up in 2018, not all were satisfied with the push for social equity for which many had hoped. Bureaucratic hurdles, shifting requirements, a high bar for meeting regulations, and differences between city, county, and state laws drove the goal of social equity programs to seem more like hot air than a reality. The LA Times estimates equity applicants represent less than 8% of people granted licenses in several of the state’s largest jurisdictions by the end of 2020.

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Now, those who have successfully started their business ventures in the marijuana sector are running into even greater challenges for their Oakland cannabis delivery and dispensary companies. Those challenges are especially pronounced in the Bay Area, where Oakland's dispensaries have been among the hardest hit.

The chair of the City of Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission, Chaney Turner, says that the city has seen a slew of crime around the cannabis industry, and he’s worried it may be enough to drive small business owners out. In an interview with KQED, Chaney explained he fears that could hit People of Color more egregiously than any other group.

“It's been a kind of a rough two years in general. Our industry has experienced massive burglaries since 2020,” Chaney told KQED, saying people used the commotion surrounding the Black Lives Matter protests to target cannabis businesses.

In 2020, the New York Times reported a boutique cannabis shop called Blunts and Moore incurred losses close to $1 million when the store was hit by looters. Their insurance refused to cover most of it, and they wound up being hit more than once.

In 2021, SFist reported on caravans of thieves hitting retail establishments in Oakland on multiple occasions, with cannabis shops being frequent targets. And in February 2022, thieves targeted a relatively new dispensary that opened in the former Parkway Theater in Oakland, using an SUV to ram in a roll-up security door.

Chaney continued, “The way that these burglaries happen is you have caravans of people that will roll up to a spot stealing whatever they can get their hands on: product, cash, electronics, whatever they could take, they took. Some have been more organized with people who actually have weapons. Some of these cannabis operations were targeted multiple times, and it hasn't stopped. People don't feel safe!”

In December of 2021, Presto Canna, a cannabis delivery service in the Fruitvale neighborhood, was hit in back-to-back burglaries. KTVU reported that surveillance cameras showed a group of men with guns using a crowbar to pry open a gate, kill the power, get through the front door, and take what they could. Tuesday, one or more of them returned, spending almost two hours clearing out what was left of his valuables. The loss totaled around $50,000.

That same month, the Oakland Police Department asked for help identifying people who’d been driving up and casing cannabis dispensaries.

Police have occasionally caught some of these burglarizers. Two people were arrested in March following a burglary at a cannabis business on East 10th Street in Oakland, near the intersection with Lisbon Avenue. Three others remained on the loose, however. And in many cases, business owners report police never even showed up to help.

If California’s cannabis industry hopes to lift up People of Color and the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs, there’s clearly a problem if that industry faces constant attacks at the same time.

“Interviews with more than 30 cannabis business owners, investors and regulators in California, an early adopter of equity licenses, show how the hope of fixing historical wrongs is being challenged by the reality of an industry facing troubled business conditions,” the New York Times reported.

Oakland has 282 equity applicants for its cannabis licenses and 328 non-equity applicants.

“If the robberies continue to happen, I think we'll lose more equity businesses. You can only be robbed so many times,” Chaney told KQED. “And for one, it's not fair. It's not fair for people, coming from these experiences and backgrounds, whether it's being formerly incarcerated, you know, or just being poor, right, and working your way up to having an actual, you know, cannabis operation only for it to be burglarized and vandalized so many times... We need to find ways to keep these people hopeful.”

Previously: Thieves Use SUV to Ram Metal Door of Oakland Dispensary, Clean the Place Out of Product