‘Doesn’t solve the problem’: Cannabis shop owners say bill to increase prison terms for thieves isn’t enough

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. – More and more cannabis retailers have been robbed across Washington in recent weeks. Advocates and store owners say they are sensitive because they only carry cash.

House Bill 5927 is going through the legislature right now to increase prison terms for those convicted of robbing a cannabis store. The law, if passed, would also require stores to report attempted thefts to the Washington State Alcohol and Cannabis Council so it can better track thefts.

Running a store is stressful, as any business owner can understand. Sativa Sisters General Manager Shawheen Azizi has heard of the increase in armed robbery in Washington.

“There is always a concern for that,” Azizi said.

At a public hearing on the bill on Friday, the Craft Cannabis Coalition said more than 54 thefts had taken place from pot shops since the start of this year.

Many in the audience cheer and argue for the proposed bill. Azizi appreciates the effort but still doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

“That doesn’t solve the root problem. It’s a bit of a band-aid,” he said. “I still think it’s beneficial and it might deter people, but the reason you deter people is to remove the reason why they have to show up and do the crime in the first place.”

That source, he says, is cash and allows cannabis retailers to access banks and use credit and debit cards. However, this is not currently allowed, as marijuana is still federally banned despite many states legalizing it.

“It’s just one layer of a deeper, more complex problem that has to do with financial regulation, where whether we’re able to use debit cards with local credit unions, or highways credit, Visa and MasterCard would be very beneficial for us. It would be much safer,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Liquor and Cannabis Authority spoke at the public hearing on Friday, saying the incidents are “disturbing” and that the new legislation could help.

“There is no imminent indication of federal banking reform and until we get federal banking reform, these businesses will remain particularly vulnerable. We believe this is an important public safety measure,” said LCB’s Chris Thompson.

In the meantime, there are several suggestions the LCB is making to cannabis retail stores to keep their locations as safe as possible. This includes minimizing the amount of cash in registers, putting up signs that people are recorded on surveillance video, hiring armed security guards, and more.

Azizi says they do the majority of that.

“I think it’s a good step. I hope that doesn’t just point out that we’re going to take this one step to the problem and that it enlightens other people to come up with better legislation so we can actually come up with better solutions than just saying ” Hey, we’ve noticed there’s a security issue,’” Azizi said.

RELATED: Washington Cannabis Retailers Push For Law That Would Protect Them From Theft

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